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Prosecutor to Charge Caltrans in Dumping at Trout Stream

January 22, 1992|MARLA CONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Bernardino County prosecutor said Tuesday he will file up to 50 misdemeanor counts against the California Department of Transportation and two construction companies for depositing large amounts of ground-up asphalt into a protected wild trout stream and tributaries of Big Bear Lake.

State Fish and Game officials said originally that they believed only the two companies and two Caltrans employees would face charges. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Johns said his office has decided to prosecute Caltrans as well, and may add charges against individual Caltrans managers and supervisors.

Criminal charges probably will filed by next month against the agency and the two contractors, said Johns. The charges will allege that Caltrans violated state Fish and Game Department laws that prohibit dumping asphalt and other materials in or near a state waterway. The maximum fine is $2,000 for each violation.

Caltrans also could face more serious charges of violating the state's water pollution laws and health and safety codes. Such charges carry fines as high as $25,000 per day for each count, Johns said. He is awaiting the results of chemical tests before deciding whether to add the other charges.

Fish and Game Warden Rick Coelho, who investigated the case, said an estimated 14 million pounds of ground-up asphalt from the resurfacing of California 18 was dumped in and alongside five miles of Deep Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains near Running Springs. Smaller amounts were deposited in tributaries of Big Bear Lake, he said.

Officials from Caltrans and the two companies contend that they were following routine highway construction practices and did not intentionally dump into the stream.

Deep Creek is a rare, state-designated wild trout stream, highly valued for its spawning grounds and willow-lined banks inhabited by black bear, deer, cougars and other animals.

"What may not have been criminal conduct along I-10 is criminal conduct here," Johns said.

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