The following is a press release issued by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
Two out-of-state men were ordered by a judge to pay $117,373 in restitution for water pollution violations stemming from an overturned fuel tank that released an estimated 760 gallons of diesel into Rock Tree Creek, a tributary of the Eel River.
The men had used the fuel tank to power an illegal indoor cannabis grow on their property in December 2017. An investigation determined the tank overturned and spilled fuel on Dec. 16. A notification was later made on behalf of the men on Jan. 18, prompting a response and investigation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Office of Spill Prevention and Response’s (OSPR) Northern Field Response Team, and subsequent mitigation by other state agencies.
The incident led to long term pollution of the stream, killing steelhead and other sensitive aquatic species.
The judge placed Sanel Ljesnjanin, of New York, and Uchenna Ukazim, of Florida, on 12 months of summary probation. Their sentence also included suspended jail time of 100 days as well as a suspended $1.5 million fine for their role in the pollution incident. The restitution will cover the roughly $112,373 in CDFW OSPR response costs, and $5,000 for natural resources damages. Additionally, the defendants are required to clean up their property pursuant to state agencies’ direction.
According to investigators, the men’s indoor grow was initially connected to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) infrastructure but was later converted to a generator power system using the fuel tank to cut corners and avoid paying utility bills.
“If they reported the spill at the time of release, response measures could have been taken to remove contaminated soils near the overturned tank and prevent the fuel from migrating into the stream,” said Eric Laughlin, a public information officer with CDFW-OSPR. “Instead, it ended up being a costly cleanup that had a deep impact on the waterway, fish and other organisms.”