FORT BRIDGER, Wyo. — For the first time in five years, Andy Johnson can relax while he fishes on his property. The Environmental Protection Agency is leaving him alone.
"It's been a long battle, and we ended up getting everything we wanted and then some,” Johnson said.
The EPA accused him of violating the Clean Water Act in February 2014.
“I built this pond so my wife and kids and I could do some fishing, so my animals had a place to drink, so we could hang out and relax,” Johnson said.
The EPA wanted Johnson to take down the stock pond and dam he built on his Fort Bridger, Wyoming, property nearly seven years ago.
"I guess they assumed we were just going to roll over and give them what they want, and we didn't,” Johnson said Tuesday.
The government claimed it violated the Clean Water Act by damming the middle of Six Mile Creek and polluting the water to build the pond.
"If a crystal clear little tiny stock pond in the middle of Wyoming that has 4- and 5-pound trout in it that's pristine, if that's a violation, then what isn't? They make no sense,” Johnson said.
He was able to get permits from the state of Wyoming before he started his project, but the EPA still threatened him with fines of between $37,500 and $75,000 a day until he took the pond and dam down.
“I had people tell me there's no way, they have too much money, they'll never stop,” he said. “But I think they need to be held accountable for threatening and bullying and overreaching. It’s not about clean water and the environment. It’s about money, and it’s about justification of their job.”
Johnson decided to fight back. The Pacific Legal Foundation heard his story and helped him free of charge.
"We decided to help Andy because this is a case of national importance. It could happen to anyone. Andy didn't violate the Clean Water Act,” said Jonathan Wood, an environmental attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. “The federal government and the bureaucrats were intent on ignoring limitations on their own power.”
Monday, the EPA settled. The case was closed. Johnson agreed to some stipulations, but he gets to keep his pond and dam.
"All of our fines were dropped, no admission of wrongdoing,” Johnson said. “I think our fines, potential fines, climbed up to above $16 million.”
As part of the settlement, Johnson agreed to plant some willow trees on the edge of his pond, as well as install a small fence on about a third of it.
It’s something he remembers offering the EPA when the whole case started.
"I remember telling them, ‘Do you need me to plant some trees? Do you need me to change a fence? What do you want me to do?’ They wouldn't answer me,” he said.
Now that’s all in the past and he can focus on fighting the big fish at the end of his line and not in D.C.
"We know that life is going to be OK,” said Johnson with a smile.