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October 19, 2001

Commonwealth Court Affirms Eagle Environmental Decision

In a memorandum opinion filed on October 19, 2001, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the decision that Irish Run and two unnamed tributaries in Jefferson County are wild trout streams.  In an unreported decision by President Judge Doyle, the Court ruled that the Environmental Hearing Board correctly interpreted the definition of “wild trout streams” and correctly found that the three Jefferson County streams did, in fact, support naturally reproducing trout populations.

According to William Sabatose (Brockport), member of the Fish and Boat Commission for the Third District, “The Fish and Boat Commission is very pleased that the Court affirmed the status of these streams as wild trout streams. From the beginning of this case, the Fish and Boat Commission’s sole interest has been in the correct identification and protection of these wild trout streams.”

The Court’s decision spans some 38 pages and deals with a number of legal and factual issues. Although the Court’s discussion of some of these issues was critical of some of the administrative approaches followed by the Fish and Boat Commission and DEP, the bottom line was that the Court found no basis to question that Irish Run and the two unnamed tributaries are, in fact, wild trout streams.

“I want to thank the attorneys who worked so hard on this case, including Laurie Shepler, Dennis Guise, Bob Ging and Michael Buchwach, as well as the members of the Commission’s staff whose expertise laid the groundwork for this decision,” Sabatose observed. “The testimony of John Arway, Ron Lee, Dave Spotts, Dick Snyder, Tom Greene and WCO Rick Valazak was critical is showing that these streams qualify as wild trout streams,” Sabatose concluded.

On September 26, 1996, the Department of Environmental Protection issued an order  to Eagle Environmental suspending its permits to build a landfill in Jefferson County.  The Department’s order was based on a determination by the staff of the Fish and Boat Commission that Irish Run and two unnamed tributaries were “wild trout streams” as defined in DEP regulations. Eagle appealed to the Environmental Hearing Board, which issued an adjudication and order in September 1998 concluding that the three streams qualified as wild trout streams. Eagle appealed the Hearing Board’s decision to Commonwealth Court. In January 2000, a three-judge panel of the Court affirmed the EHB decision. Eagle requested and was granted reconsideration by the entire Commonwealth Court. Seven judges heard argument in the case in June 2000, and the October 19, 2001 decision followed. There is no indication at this time whether any of the parties will seek review of the decision by the State Supreme Court.

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