Local Farmer Faces $2.8M Fine for Plowing Land Without Permit

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SACRAMENTO -- Stanislaus-based farmer John Duarte was defiant Friday as he went to federal court to fight a $2.8 million fine for not getting the proper permits to plow his land.

Federal officials say the wetlands on Duarte's wheat growing property cannot be plowed unless he has the proper federal wetland permits. Historically, however, the land has been plowed for years.

The Clean Water Act says moist vernal pools that feed into rivers and streams must not be disrupted without a permit. Only recently has the act been expanded to include wetlands. Duarte says the vernal pools in the area were not disturbed and are "in good health."

The upcoming legal fight, which has garnered national attention, is expected to be costly for the local farmer. Through it all, Duarte said he thinks federal precedent should not be set against farmers like him.

The federal judge set an August 15 trial date to determine if the fine will stand.