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Former Hot Springs Owner Fined For Pollution

East Oregonian | Feb. 3, 2013 3:06 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 3, 2013 11:06 p.m.

Contributed By:

PHIL WRIGHT

The former owner of Lehman Hot Springs will have to pay $40,000 in fines for breaking pollution laws in 2009 at the once popular resort, but John Patrick Lucas won’t see a day in jail.

Lucas owned and managed Lehman from 1992, primarily through corporate entities, until he lost it in foreclosure in 2010. He was at the Umatilla County Courthouse, Pendleton, for sentencing Tuesday on 12 counts of second-degree water pollution, a Class A misdemeanor, which he pleaded guilty to in March 2012. In spite of the pleas, he remained steadfast that sewage lagoons at the hot springs near Ukiah didn’t pollute state waterways.

“The reason I am adamant about this is because I know they never leaked,” Lucas said in court. “What this is all about is this could have happened, but it didn’t.”

Assistant attorney general Patrick Flanagan, however, said while Lucas tried to rectify problems at Lehman, he didn’t do enough. Samples from Warm Spring Creek, which runs below one sewer lagoon, didn’t reveal pollution, Flanagan said, but inspectors found tampon applicators near the mouth of one lagoon outflow pipe.

Flanagan asked Judge Ron Pahl of the 6th Judicial District to sentence Lucas to the maximum of $25,000 on each of the eight pollution charges that applied to him personally, for a total fine of $200,000. The state ignored the four charges against the corporate entities.

The state agreed to apply that money toward the $300,000 Lucas owes in fines from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The agency sought more than $500,000 in fines, but an administrative law judge recently cut that down to $300,000.

Flanagan said the state wasn’t seeking to “double-up” on Lucas with criminal and civil fines, but the penalties were appropriate given the case has been active since 2005 and involved an inordinate amount of time and labor from state environmental regulators and justice department attorneys.

“Given the length and history of noncompliance … the state is seeking a substantial penalty,” the prosecutor said.

The state also wanted 120 hours of community service for Lucas and a prohibition to keep him from owning or operating Lehman for the next three years. But Flanagan said the state wasn’t seeking jail time for Lucas, though the law allowed up to a year in jail on each count. And the state agreed to drop its civil case against Lucas, which also dealt with the pollution issues.

Lucas’ attorney, Doug Fischer, said Lucas was the only loser in this case because he went bankrupt trying to make Lehman Hot Springs work, and the $300,000 civil fine will compensate the state for prosecuting the case.

Lucas then addressed the court. He asserted the lagoons didn’t leak, and though he had difficulty meeting environmental regulations, he said he didn’t harm the environment.

Judge Pahl sentenced Lucas to $5,000 each on the eight counts for a $40,000 total and ordered him to complete 40 hours of community service, which he can do in Washington County where he lives. Pahl also agreed to prohibit Lucas from having anything to do with the resort for three years. The judge said if Lucas doesn’t comply, he will have to pay the full $200,000.

Pahl then discharged the counts against the corporate entities at Fischer’s request.

Lucas said afterward he was satisfied with the outcome.

Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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