The former owner of Lehman Hot Springs, a once-popular resort near Ukiah, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Pendleton to multiple charges of misdemeanor water pollution.
The plea satisfies the criminal case against John Patrick Lucas, but he still faces a civil suit filed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to collect more than $500,000 in fines.
Lucas admitted guilt to 12 counts of second-degree water pollution, a Class A misdemeanor, before Circuit Court Judge Ron Pahl at the Umatilla County Courthouse. He pleaded guilty to eight counts personally, and two each on behalf of corporate entities, the Lehman Development Corp. and the Lehman Hot Spring LLC.
The Oregon Department of Justice accused Lucas of allowing wastewater at the resort to leak from lagoons and into a tributary of the John Day River in 2009. Lucas was charged with 16 counts of first-degree water pollution, a Class B felony, and 18 counts of second-degree water pollution.
Department spokeswoman Kate Medema said the deal allowed Lucas to plead guilty to lesser offenses than he faced at trial April 2. Six of the eight charges against Lucas personally alleged water pollution. The others were technical in nature, including permit and regulatory violations.
Lucas’s attorney, Doug Fischer of Pendleton, declined to discuss the case details until Lucas is sentenced. But, he said, water pollution as a criminal charge is not always as clear as the name implies.
Lucas admitted he was criminally negligent in maintaining wastewater lagoons that fouled state waters, a violation of environmental permit requirements, Fischer said. The deal all but concludes the criminal case against Lucas. Pahl scheduled sentencing June 5. The maximum sentence for second-degree water pollution is five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The sentencing date allows Lucas and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to settle fines of more than half a million dollars. The department in June 2010 fined Lucas and the two corporations $532,275 for improper sewage storage and discharge at the resort. The fine was based primarily on the economic advantage the resort gained during the 17 years it failed to follow environmental regulations. Lucas never paid the fines.
Department spokesman Brian Mannion declined comment on Lucas’ case Thursday.
Portland developer Walter Ratzlaf bought the resort at a foreclosure sale in October 2010. His crews are cleaning up the site, according to recent testimony. Ratzlaf didn’t return a message left at his Portland property businesss, and an employee at the hot springs, Frieda Beach of Hermiston, said Ratzlaf didn’t want to discuss his plans for the site.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.