Warrant issued in White City water-pollution case

A White City man is on the lam after allegedly dumping garbage in a creek while operating an illegal White City auto-salvage operation he later abandoned, stiffing the landlord for the cleanup.

A warrant was issued April 4 for 43-year-old Joshua Michael Smith after he failed to show up for a pretrial conference two days before he was scheduled to go on trial on two felony and three misdemeanor counts stemming from the operation in the 7900 block of West 11th Street.

Smith's attorney at the time, Larry Workman, withdrew from the case because he lost contact with Smith, who gave Jackson County Circuit Court officials a White City post office box as his address.

Smith also failed to show up for his initial arraignment Oct. 29 on the charges. He did appear a week later after a warrant was issued for his arrest, court documents show.

Now he has failed to appear again. The new warrant carries a $10,000 bail, records show.

The scheduled April 6 trial was cancelled and has not been rescheduled, court records show.

"We'll wait and see if and when he's brought into custody or comes forward and gets the process started again," said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Nick Geil, who is prosecuting the case.

The case began in February 2013 when the state Department of Environmental Quality received a complaint about an "unpermitted auto-wrecking facility" at which several solid-waste violations were found, DEQ files state.

In its investigation, the agency said, it recorded 37 tons of metal, including dismantled vehicles, vehicle parts and home appliances. And they found about 1,035 waste tires and 255 gallons of unidentified fluids stored in various containers.

DEQ officials also documented another 10 tons of garbage, including broken furniture, bedding, carpet, rubber and plastics, according to a DEQ order. Also discovered were roofing materials, metal, tires and other debris in the unnamed creek that had water in it at the time.

Water from that creek eventually flows into the nearby state Denman Wildlife Area.

Environmental laws forbid the disposal of solid waste anywhere except in a permitted facility, such as a landfill or transfer station. Oregon law allows the storage of up to 100 tires on residential or industrial property without a permit, provided they are properly stored and managed.

Smith in 2013 was ordered to pay about $18,000 in civil fines for the operation and to clean it up but six months went by with the fine unpaid and the cleanup undone, according to DEQ.

Lot owner Allen Surgeon was then stuck with the cleanup duties on the 3.4 acre lot. The cleanup was approved by the DEQ after 10 months of work and about $25,000.

Surgeon was also initially fined $18,845, but the agency reduced that fine to $9,600 and Surgeon is currently on a payment plan to satisfy the debt, says David Esch, the DEQ solid waste specialist who investigated the case.

State law holds landowners responsible for environmental cleanups even if the owner never tossed so much as a cigarette butt on the land.

Smith was indicted in October on two counts each of first- and second-degree unlawful water pollution as well as one count of discarding refuse within 100 yards of state waters. The first-degree pollution charges are Class B felonies while the rest are misdemeanors.

Smith pleaded not guilty to all the charges Nov. 6 in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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