BOARDMAN - Threemile Canyon Farms disputes allegations from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and has appealed nearly $70,000 in penalties assessed.

The DEQ fined the farming operation $51,054 for allegedly allowing open burning of 25,000 cubic yards of composting debris last July without a permit. Agency officials said the compost was accumulated at 75096 Threemile Road. The agency also fined the business $12,446 for allowing similar open burning of 5,000 cubic yards of compost without a permit last December.

In addition, the DEQ fined Threemile Canyon Farms $6,400 for failing to immediately report each debris fire, $2,400 for the July fire and $4,000 for the December fire. The fines total $69,900 and are the first enforcement action the agency has taken against company.

Len Bergstein, a spokesman for the farming operation, said it has appealed the fines.

"We believe that the facts are quite different than as alleged by DEQ," he said. "The debris fires were caused by spontaneous combustion, not by any intentional act of Threemile Canyon Farms."

The agency has set a late August hearing on the farm's appeal.

"We'll show that Threemile Canyon Farms took reasonable and prudent steps to prevent the spreading, and to extinguish the smoldering material," Bergstein said.

In a May letter to farm managers, Dick Pedersen, DEQ's deputy director, spelled out the farm's violations of its state permit to operate a composting facility. First, he said, farm managers had not notified the agency, as the permit required, they were discontinuing their composting operation.

Bruce Lumper, a DEQ solid waste expert based in The Dalles, inspected the farm in May 2006 and said employees were stockpiling debris rather than composting it. He warned Marty Myers, the farm's general manager, continued storage of the debris "increased the potential for a fire outbreak from spontaneous combustion," Pedersen wrote.

Lumper again visited the farm in July 2006 and observed about 25,000 cubic yards of the debris stockpile "was either completely burned or actively burning, probably due to spontaneous combustion," Pedersen said. Farm managers had not notified DEQ of the fire, as the permit required.

Lumper and Tom Hack of Pendleton, a DEQ air quality expert, visited Threemile Canyon Farms again in December and observed about 5,000 cubic yards of yard debris burning while farm employees added more debris to the fire, Pedersen said.

Bergstein said the DEQ establishes its fines based on whether it believes the respondent stands to gain from the violations.

"We did not have the intent to set those fires and we took reasonable steps to solve the problem," he said. "Burning the stuff up wasn't in our economic interest."

Bergstein said farm managers are looking forward to the August hearing when they can present their side of the story.

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