Not So Neighborly
For many years Family Water Alliance (FWA) has advocated for a good neighbor policy to assure that landowners that are adjacent to state and federal property are afforded the same goodwill that many of us enjoy. FWA sought tangible landowner assurances through the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum, but only a watered down policy was ever adopted.
Recently, I had the privilege to meet with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Dean Lundie. He acquired a 40 acre parcel adjacent to the Rio Vista Unit of the National Wildlife Refuge; the land was originally acquired by The Nature Conservancy then sold to US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Refuge parcel includes a Reservation of Well Easement that allows Mr. Lundie to access and maintain his groundwater well that is on federal property. In an effort to maintain his well, Mr. Lundie cleared some cottonwood trees, willow trees and brush to ensure an adequate fire break for his well. The trees had been planted near his punp and pipeline in recent years by the Nature Conservancy. Mr. Lundie had grave concerns about the root system of these trees damaging his pipeline or catching fire due, to their close proximity to the well’s electrical supply.
Mr. Lundies actions to maintain his well were met with criminal actions being filed against him by the federal government. On November 16, 2009 Mr. Lundie, a taxpayer and retired firefighter from the San Francisco was arrested and booked into jail. He was charged with taking of plants on a National Wildlife Refuge, destruction and removal of natural objects, cutting and destroying timber on public lands, and trespassing.
As Mr. Lundies attorney Paul Minasian argued, this action against a neighboring landowner by the federal government sets a very bad precedence and only furthers the distrust that the public has of the federal government.
It was never disputed that Mr. Lundie owned the well and had an easement to access and maintain the well. The federal government disagreed with the way Mr. Lundie maintained his well by creating a fire break and applying gravel around the pump to assure access during the winter months. Mr. Ludie also suspects that the Refuge staff has cut his power supply to the pump.
In this case as in many it is very difficult to defend yourself against the federal government who has unlimited means. Mr. Lundie was convicted, fined and sentenced to the crimes listed above. It took over three years for this case to be determined; in the mean time Mr. Lundie was unable to use his well, which has greatly diminished his property value. Mr. Lundie fears never being able to use the well again because of the criminal charges that were sought against him when he was only doing what is considered normal and customary for any groundwater well user.
Mr. Lundie remains convinced that this in an attempt by the federal government to take his property without due processes and without adequate compensation. Mr. Lundie has requested that the Refuge remove the cottonwood and willow trees near his well and pipeline so that the roots cannot further damage his sole water supply for his 40 acre parcel. Through his attorney he has also made the following requests of the Refuge; remove the barrier that prevents vehicle access to the well, removal of a stop sign and vehicle counting mechanism that is located on Mr. Lundies property and reinstatement of the power source of the well. Mr. Lundie is contemplating an inverses condemnation claim against the federal government.
This case is an example of why FWA for numerous years has tried in several venues to get the state and federal resources agencies to adopt a meaningful Good Neighbor Policy with REAL assurances, only to be plagued with countless years of meetings, resulting in language that would be rendered useless if ever tested. FWA did not stand alone in this battle we worked with many local farm bureaus, private landowners and of our north state legislators. This is a real problem and has not been fallen of deaf ears by those who represent us, the agencies would NOT sign off on any assurances when asked.
Intimidating and perusing criminal actions against a neighboring landowner was what a true good neighbor policy would prevent. It is clear that their needs to be a better mechanism to resolve these types of disputes instead of criminal charges against a hardworking retired firefighter. ■
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