The penalties keep coming for Applebee Aviation.
After suspending the company’s license for a year, seeking a court order to stop it from spraying and fining it $40,000, the Oregon Department of Agriculture announced fines totaling $180,000 for the helicopter company and its owner, Michael Applebee, along with a five-year license suspension.
The fines and license suspension mark the largest penalties ever in a case of aerial pesticide spraying in Oregon. The practice of spraying chemicals on tracts of forestland after clearcut logging has long been controversial. It recently caught the attention of state lawmakers, who voted this past session to increase penalties for sprayers who break the rules.
Applebee Aviation, a commercial helicopter company and pesticide operator based in Banks, Oregon, has the right to contest the ODA’s proposed penalties through an administrative hearing.
The company declined a request for comment Thursday.
The company initially lost its license in September after multiple agencies investigated a worker’s complaint about chemical exposure and found numerous violations of worker protection laws. Applebee has a history of crashes, complaints and violations known to state regulators.
After discovering the company conducted at least two pesticide spraying jobs in early October while its license was suspended, the ODA secured a restraining order from a Washington County judge. On Thursday, the ODA announced further examination of Applebee’s records found the company sprayed 16 separate times in violation of its license suspension. Those included jobs on federal land and for the Oregon Department of Forestry, which regulates forest practices in the state and acts as a partner agency in spray incident investigations.
“The fact that this operator knowingly and willfully continued to conduct pesticide applications 16 times after receiving a suspended license shows contempt for state regulations and our department,” ODA director Katy Coba said in a statement. “We cannot and will not tolerate such disregard for the law by which all pesticide operators are expected to live by.”
Two aerial pesticide operators in Oregon have lost their licenses in recent weeks: Applebee and Pacific Air Research. Pacific Air was previously involved in a 2013 spray incident in Curry County that prompted legislative hearings.
After those suspensions, only two companies remain in Oregon that specialize in aerial pesticide spraying on forest land: Wilbur Ellis Co. and Western Helicopter Services, according to Scott Dahlman, policy director for the timber and agriculture industry group Oregonians for Food and Shelter.
Dahlman’s group was among those that fought efforts to tighten the regulation of aerial spraying on Oregon’s forest during the recent legislative session, instead pushing stricter penalties for violators of the existing rules.
He called the Applebee case “a shining example that when people are doing the wrong thing, they are going to be held accountable.”