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Wouldn’t you love it if, the next time you got a speeding ticket, you could promise to pay eventually and then sort of not get around to it, and the ticketing authority would just sort of … not mind? How cool would that be?  

That’s more or less what–almost–happened for the Board of Supervisors in Peirce Township down in Texas County. Peirce Township contains the headwaters of the Jacks Fork River. In 2004, the Supervisors decided to do some flood control at Dixon’s Crossing, a low water bridge on the South Prong of the headwaters, but they failed to consult the Army Corps of Engineers and get a permit before sending some slaphappy guy on a road grader to move a bunch of gravel.

A mistake.

Here’s how Dixon’s Crossing looks upstream–a lovely meandering stream, right? And here’s how the spot looked before the road grader pulled in there and did its magic. Makes you feel calm just to look at it, doesn’t it?

Here’s how it looks now.

Damn. That’s nothing but a muddy drainage ditch–muddy because straight water flows fast and does such an efficient job of carrying loosened gravel downstream. The road grader guy piled the gravel six feet high on the bank (the picture is below the fold), and the next flood moved at a spritely clip through there, you betcha, and carried that gravel downstream, clogging spots down below.

Trust me. The Corps wouldn’t have given permission for the Peirce Township Supervisors to muck around in the stream without consulting a hydrologist. And in fact, the Corps would have told them that rather than solving the flooding problem there, they were about to make it worse. But too often, the attitude in rural areas is: “Permit? We don’t need no stinkin’ permit.”

Maybe what they did was more akin to driving without a license than to getting a speeding ticket. They didn’t understand that river any better than a fourteen year old who barely knows how to shift out of park understands driving.

And once environmentalists noticed the carnage and pressured the EPA to take action, Peirce Township–not one of the wealthier areas of the state, I’d guess–got saddled with a $14,500 mitigation fine. In other words, they had to come up with a plan to spend that much money mitigating the harm they’d done.

Since then–that was 2004–nothing has been accomplished. Peirce Township submitted a plan that the EPA refused to approve in 2006; new supervisors were elected in Peirce Township and the EPA personnel changed; the new people at the EPA dropped the ball; and the new supervisors, well, they didn’t do much to remind anybody that they had an outstanding ticket which had to be paid by October of this year.

The whole matter might have slumped off into oblivion but for one buttinsky environmentalist named Tom Kruzen, who asked the EPA recently what progress had been made on the issue. “Peirce Township? Dixon’s Crossing?” they said. “What are you talking about?” the EPA wanted to know.

It’s taken considerable nudging from Kruzen and Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club to get them in gear, and it’s probably too late for the township to implement any mitigation plan by October the first. But at least, thanks to Kruzen, the ticket will have to be paid, and somebody else will do the mitigation. Finally. Five years after the fact.

I wonder if Peirce Township will have an institutional memory of this debacle. When new supervisors are elected, will that $14,500 fine hurt enough to be remembered so that in future they’re less cavalier about the permitting process?

Maybe.