The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued a $12,236 fine to Kruse Farms for burning plastic material on Feb. 24, 2020.
Kruse Farms owner Jeff Kruse told The News-Review on Tuesday he is challenging the amount of the fine. While he said the material was burned, he disputes the DEQ’s allegations about harm to humans or the Umpqua River.
Kruse said the material DEQ’s talking about is Reemay cloth placed over the top of a crop during the spring to increase the ground temperature so the plants can grow more vigorously.
It was used to cover sugar beets being grown essentially as seedlings to sell to a sugar beet grower in Eastern Oregon.
The DEQ said the landscape fabric is composed of open-weave polyester, and that burning it could create noxious odors and create health hazards for the young, the elderly and people with respiratory diseases.
According to the DEQ’s Notice of Civil Penalty Assessment and Order, the fire burned 233 cubic yards of material and Douglas County Fire District No. 2 responded to the fire.
The burning of the material is a Class I violation, it said.
The DEQ also said the burn took place 200 feet from the Umpqua River, creating a risk of ash being discharged into the river.
However, it noted that Kruse Farms did remove the ash and unburned landscape fabric away from the riverbank, making it less likely that debris would enter the river.
Kruse said it was a clean fire and burned a half a mile from any homes.
“It wasn’t close to anybody,” he said.
As for the alleged river impact, Kruse said the location of the fire wasn’t in a place that the river is likely to reach, except during a 100-year flood.
“Where the fire was, the only time the river’s been there is in 1964,” he said.
Kruse said erosion from rainfall would move any remaining material back toward the field, rather than toward the river. He also said burning is preferable to placing the material into the county landfill, where it would stay forever.
“I’m not disputing the fact that there was a violation, what I’m disputing at this point in time is the size of the penalty,” he said.
A $12,236 fine would be a significant hit, he said.
“That hurts a lot. We’re a big operation, but the last couple of years have not been that good for us,” he said.
As with many businesses, Kruse Farms has seen reduced traffic at its market during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said he believes he’ll be able to reach an agreement with the DEQ over what in his view would be a more reasonable penalty.
“I don’t think the DEQ’s trying to put people out of business,” he said.