An Oregon judge has ordered more than $50,000 in fines and a one-year license suspension for a pesticide spraying company that violated worker protection laws and later disregarded an order to stop spraying.
Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Rackstraw ordered the Department of Agriculture to issue fines of $43,500 to Applebee Aviation and $10,000 to its owner, Mike Applebee, for 16 violations of state law. Applebee should have "exercised reasonable care under the circumstances and ordered that all ongoing and further spay operations cease," Rackstraw wrote in the proposed order. license, and constitutes gross negligence," the order states.
The decision is the latest in a controversial case involving the state's largest ever penalties for an aerial pesticide sprayer, which ultimately could be decided at the state court of appeals. The case against Applebee Aviation started with a former truck driver turned whistleblower.
Applebee Aviation, based in Banks, Oregon, generates much of its business by applying pesticides for farmers and forest companies, who use weed killers to kill plants that compete with young timber crops.
Spraying herbicides via helicopter has long been a controversial practice, particularly in Oregon's Coast Range, where it's generated numerous complaints about exposure.
In 2015, a former Applebee employee named Darryl Ivy released hundreds of photos and videos he took on forestry job sites, claiming he was left exposed as helicopters sprayed weed killer overhead.
The Department of Agriculture and Oregon's Department of Occupational Safety and Health looked into Ivy's claims and found violations of worker protection law that resulted in fines and an emergency license suspension in September. Applebee Aviation later violated that suspension by continuing to apply pesticides on 16 occasions, according to the Department of Agriculture, which included jobs on state and federal forest land
In response, the state proposed penalties of $160,000 in fines and a five-year license suspension. Ultimately, the Department of Agriculture can choose to follow the judge's recommendation for the lesser penalty, proceed with its original fine or decide to issue a different penalty amount. Bruce Pokarney, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, declined to comment on the judge's decision until the agency has issued its final order on the case.
The latest decision comes after a different judge in January decided the state's action against Applebee was unwarranted. But state regulators disagreed and stood by the September emergency suspension.
"We should have never been suspended in the first place," Mike Applebee said. Applebee, who had not yet seen the order, said the state's actions have been devastating to his business.
"It'll have a ripple effect. We provide a service that's needed," Applebee said. "There's a significant amount of farmers out there who are going to be disappointed, that's for sure."
The Oregon Department of Agriculture expects to issue a final order soon.
Applebee Aviation is challenging the agency's emergency license suspension in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Copyright 2016 ERTHFX. To see more, visit ERTHFX
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