Ossipee – November 10, 2008 – A State Superior Court judge has granted a request by Ossipee Lake environmental law violator Donald Lee that he be given additional time in court to respond to a Motion for Contempt charge filed against him by the Ossipee Bluffs Association in July.
To accommodate the request, Hillsborough County Judge James D. O’Neill has rescheduled Lee’s court date from November 24 to Tuesday, January 20. Lee will have two of the four hours allotted to the hearing, which will begin at 11 a.m.
In the contempt motion, Bluffs’ attorney Jed Callen asked Judge O’Neill for civil damages and a lien on Lee’s property, saying he had failed to comply with the court’s April 2008 order to implement a plan to remove millions of tons of sand and debris from Ossipee Lake.
Callen said that the plan Lee submitted to DES in June is not the plan specified by the judge in April, and it calls for removing just a fraction of the debris he is responsible for cleaning up. In response, Lee’s attorney, Finis Williams, said his client was forced to create a different plan because one of the documents in the court-ordered plan would require him to tear down the home of an abutting property owner, Jim Lamm.
Both sides in the case acknowledge that the state-ordered plan contains an exhibit with an error, but the agreement ends there. Callen said the exhibit in question, one of hundreds submitted into evidence in Lee’s 2006 trial, is clearly marked “not for construction or permitting” and that the error was quickly caught and explained. He said Lee obviously understood the court did not expect him to tear down Lamm’s house to dredge the lake.
In response, Williams accused Callen of purposely “submitting an improper exhibit” and taking “totally inconsistent” positions in explaining it. Williams also said his client wants to present testimony by his engineer and hydrologist that questions whether the state-mandated plan will work, something Callen said is an attempt by Lee to re-open a case that was decided in court more than two years ago.
While O’Neill approved Lee’s request for additional time to respond to the Motion for Contempt, he did not rule whether he would permit additional testimony to be heard from Lee’s agents. O’Neill denied another motion by Williams asking that the judge visit the site of the environmental damage before making a decision on the contempt motion.
This is the second Motion for Contempt by the Bluffs Association that Judge O’Neill has held in abeyance while granting Lee additional time to comply with the September 2006 court order that he “forthwith” submit a plan to remediate the environmental damage he caused to the lake.
Bluffs attorney Callen filed the first contempt motion in September 2007, accusing Lee of dragging his feet for a year without submitting a viable plan. O’Neill heard the motion in April of this year but didn’t rule on it. Instead, he gave Lee 60 days to apply to DES for approval to implement the “preferred alternative” remediation plan that was detailed by environmental specialists at the trial.
Flaws in State Enforcement
The Lee case, which is now in its 21st year without resolution, has angered lake residents, embarrassed state officials and engaged the attention of the State Attorney General’s office. Critics of the state, including Ossipee Lake Alliance, say the case illustrates flaws in environmental enforcement procedures that need to be addressed.
Court records show that state officials were aware of Lee’s actions for 18 years but were unsuccessful in stopping him. At the trial, Lee admitted he systematically deceived environmental officials about his actions and delayed complying with their orders while millions of tons of sand and debris poured into the lake, creating an artificial promontory that can be seen from space in satellite photos.
Frustrated with the state’s inability to bring the matter to a close, the Bluffs group successfully sued Lee in September 2006 only to see another two years elapse without remediation of the damage. Bluffs Association spokesman Steve Foley says the lake group has spent more than $250,000 on the case to date.