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Firm to Pay $25,000 Fine Over Deaths of Fish in '99

VENTURA COUNTY

August 28, 2002|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A contractor has agreed to pay a $25,000 fine in connection with the deaths of more than a dozen fish, including two federally protected steelhead trout, authorities said Tuesday.

An Anaheim-based firm, Myers Polich A Joint Venture, did not admit any wrongdoing in the 3-year-old case but agreed to the penalties in an agreement signed by Superior Court Judge Melinda A. Johnson, authorities said.

At the time the dead fish were found in 1999, authorities said the incident was one of the worst cases ever in Ventura County involving destruction of an endangered species. "This was a significant case because there were actually fish that were killed," Deputy Dist. Atty. Laurel McWaters said. "You rarely have that kind of direct evidence."

The contractor was hired by the California Department of Transportation in 1999 for a $3-million project to replace a 70-year-old bridge over Tule Creek, about five miles north of Ojai.

In August 1999, during construction, work crews allegedly placed a plastic sheet on the creek's surface to catch debris, action that led to the fish deaths. The company also failed to obtain proper permits for the project, McWaters said.

A private biologist who visited the construction site discovered the damage. At least 13 fish died and two dozen more were affected and had to be relocated, authorities said.

The incident occurred at a pool on the tiny creek, an important spawning ground for steelhead trout. At first, authorities had considered filing civil or criminal charges against Caltrans but decided against such action. McWaters said Tuesday she did not believe a case against Caltrans could have been proven in court.

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