A San Juan Island man accused of dumping 66 automobile tires over an embankment and onto the shoreline of a publicly owned nature preserve is off the hook.
In a decision handed down March 11, San Juan County Hearings Examiner Phil Olbrechts ruled the county lacked sufficient evidence to tie 34-year-old Richard Morgan Foley to the pile of tires discarded on the waterfront of Deadman Bay a year ago in mid-March and dismissed one of two notices of violation leveled against him.
Foley, who filed an appeal to contest allegations of illegal dumping, faced a bill of $4,600 for reimbursement of cleanup costs, a $1,000 fine and possible criminal prosecution if he failed to comply with “corrective actions” as spelled out in the notice.
“It’s unfortunate,” county Code Enforcement Officer Christopher Laws said of outcome of the case. “If you read the decision you get the sense the hearing examiner felt that all indications are Mr. Foley was responsible. But lacking a fingerprint on any of the tires or a witness we had to go with what we had.”
Meanwhile, Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann said the waterfront preserve, a coveted picnic spot and favored by kayakers, weathered the incident without a great deal of damage.
“The main thing was having them there and having to remove all those tires,” he said. “We did worry about them getting into the marine environment or getting wedged into the mud of the tidal area.”
Photographs of tires and their make and model, and laws of probability, were at the center of the county’s case.
Photographs were taken of tires as part of an earlier investigation into a un-permitted salvage and wrecking that Foley reportedly operated at one time at his Roche Harbor Road home, a property, which according to county records, is owned by his mother, a Montana resident.
At that time, he already had been ordered to dispose of an assortment of tires amassed on the property.
In the case involving the dumping of tires at Deadman Bay, the county argued the make and model of the tires photographed as part of an earlier investigation at Roche Harbor Road were consistent with those of seven recovered at Dead Man Bay. It then argued that, based on an analysis prepared by a Bellingham-based statistics professor, the chance that the same seven models of tires would appear in both places by coincidence is 51,000 to one.
Olbrechts acknowledged that while the probability aspect of the county case proved compelling, it did not show by itself that the mass of tires at Deadman Bay were dumped by Foley.
“The statistical report made no direct conclusions of the likelihood that the appellant had dumped tires on the shoreline,” he said.
Olbrechts noted the county’s case may have suffered because the professor who produced the probability report did not attend the hearing, in late February, and that its bearing on the evidence had either been misapplied by county staff or would have benefited by further explanation.
In a separate notice of violation, although related, Foley was also ordered a year ago to cease and desist the salvage operation at Roche Harbor Road, and to remove a multitude of assorted broken down vehicles, scrap metal, appliances and cast-off mechanical parts scattered around the property. That case remains unresolved.