APPLETON — The Department of Environmental Protection wants to know what Appleton resident Charles Woodman is going to do about his celebrated farm pond.
In a letter mailed Wednesday, the DEP has asked Woodman why the pond still exists months after a Superior Court judge ordered it removed. Woodman predicted the case will end up in court again before the pond is removed.
“We can’t find anyone to do it,” he said.
The state has no plans to proceed with a contempt-of-court action until an investigation has concluded.
“We are going to wait and see what he says before we proceed,” said DEP representative Michael Mullin.
Since, ideally, the pond should be removed during the drier summer months when its impact would be minimal, “We have a little time,” Mullin said. But the DEP wants assurances that the pond will be removed in a timely fashion. It has asked for a list of contractors contacted by Woodman.
“Our primary focus is to get this project done,” Mullin said.
Since a Superior Court order was issued to remove the pond, it was expected that it would be removed last fall. But a combination of uncooperative contractors and a lack of assurance from the DEP against further prosecution has kept the pond in place for one more season, Woodman said.
“We will probably end up in court again,” he said.
In a series of court appearances over several years, Woodman argued that the pond predates the DEP and environmental legislation. Woodman, a retired science teacher and rhododendron grower, has argued that removing the 1-acre farm pond would create a far more dangerous environmental situation than allowing it to stay.
He admits he did not obtain a permit to create the pond. But he created several other ponds around his Appleton farm before a permit was required. He asked for a small fine and that the pond remain to protect the fish and frogs that occupy it.
But the DEP argued successfully in District, Superior and state Supreme courts that the illegal pond affects stream flow, fish life and water temperatures in the area and must be removed.
As the case proceeded through the courts, Woodman became a cause for property-rights supporters and radio station WVOM-FM. An August rally sponsored by WVOM raised about $10,000, which Woodman thought was enough money to complete the removal of the pond. The state argued in court that the pond could be removed for $6,000 to $10,000.
Woodman is not so sure about that.
“Since August, we have been trying to find a contractor to do the job for that amount. When we finally found the contractor who gave the statement to the DEP, he didn’t want to do the job unless the public and press were kept away. We have written to six contractors and no one will do the job,” Woodman said.
The Woodmans also have asked for immunity from the DEP for any environmental consequences of removing the pond. They are afraid removing the pond will create some unknown violation that will land them back in court. So far, the DEP has refused.
“Everything is stopped now, with the ice and snow,” Woodman said. “I doubt that anything will be done before spring. I assume we will be called back to court for contempt. We have a good argument if we are called back. It’s not over yet. We have no immediate plans to remove it. We are not refusing. We just can’t find anyone to do it.”