A small businesswoman pleaded guilty Tuesday (March 13) to a felony violation of the Clean Water Act, reluctantly acknowledging she damaged a wetland on her property while developing a campground in Dubuque, Iowa.
The Associated Press reported that Elaine Kelly, 65, pleaded guilty to discharging pollutants like dirt and rock into a wetland on her family’s property while building the Hoot Owl Hollow Campground and RV Park, which she opened with her husband in 2010. She wiped away tears after the hearing at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Forde Fairchild said sentencing guidelines recommend eight to 14 months for Kelly, whose 13th grandchild was born Monday. He said he would seek prison time and would elaborate on the reasons at sentencing, which has not been scheduled.
Investigators say Kelly ignored orders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction on the campground until the impact on the wetland could be studied.
Kelly was reluctant to accept responsibility for the crime as part of a plea agreement. Before the hearing, she told her husband she did not want to plead guilty. Asked by Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles whether she discharged a pollutant into a wetland, she paused for several seconds before saying, “yes, sir.” At another point, she appeared to question whether the wetland was considered a U.S. waterway.
Prosecutors say the campground’s construction damaged 1.8 acres of wetland on the property adjacent to Catfish Creek, a Mississippi River tributary. Prosecutors say the wetland “has a significant nexus” to the Mississippi River, about seven miles away, and that’s why it is protected under the Clean Water Act, which regulates construction projects in the nation’s waterways.