Lynden wetlands cleared for blueberry farm to be restored

The Environmental Protection Agency has settled with the owner of a Lynden blueberry farm who will need to restore wetlands that were cleared on the property.

Suellyn Rader Blymyer, on behalf of herself, her late husband Lyle Rader’s estate, and their company Uptrail Group LLC, will pay $210,000 in civil penalties for clearing and grading wetland on their property off Halverstick Road.

In late 2005 and early 2006, the Raders cleared a 10-acre parcel so they could use it to grow blueberries. The parcel was a Category 1 wetland, the most protected of four categories under state law. The Raders did not get a permit from Whatcom County or submit a plan before clearing the wetland, or get a permit as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

The couple faced legal action from Whatcom County in 2006 and were found to have illegally cleared the land, which they were subsequently asked to restore. The two appealed, but the Washington State Court of Appeals upheld the decision in late 2011, more than a year after Lyle Rader passed away.

In August 2013, the EPA filed a separate lawsuit to require the restoration of the site to pre-fill condition, as the wetlands still had not been restored. The 10-acre site is bordered on three sides by ditches or stream channels, which the lawsuit alleged constitute U.S. waters that flow into a series of streams, which eventually connect with the Sumas River.

As of Thursday, Oct. 1, the EPA and Rader Blymyer had entered an agreement with the U.S. District Court in Seattle that spells out both the civil fine and requirements for restoring the wetlands that were destroyed.

“As part of the settlement, the property owner will restore these high-quality wetlands,” Sam Ryan, director of planning and development for Whatcom County, said in a written announcement. “It is everyone’s responsibility to protect our wetlands because they serve an important function for the community by filtering the water we depend on.”

Rader Blymyer did not return phone calls from a reporter seeking comment.

Under the agreement, 12 acres on the property will be restored as wetlands, and about 19 total acres will have legally binding restrictions placed on them.

The restoration needs to start by Oct. 15, pending permits arriving on time from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and be completed by Jan. 1, 2016, according to the agreement. If permits take longer to get, the timeline will be adjusted.

Rader Blymyer and Uptrail Group LLC will need to foot the bill for the wetland restoration.

Under the settlement, the defendants neither admit nor deny that the wetlands were illegally cleared.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.