NPR Story
12:33 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Lottery Winner Fined For Illegal Land Clearing On San Juan Island

Washington state officials have fined a Virginia man $79,000 for illegal clearing of a San Juan Island shoreline.

It’s trouble Dave Honeywell of Fredericksburg, Virginia, wouldn’t have gotten into if he hadn’t just won the lottery.

The computer scientist with the Department of Defense won a $217 million Powerball lottery last year. Then he plunked down a reported $6 million to buy a resort called the Mar Vista on San Juan Island.

He formed a company called Orca Dreams, LLC, to develop the stretch of shoreline into his retirement home and family compound with multiple buildings.

The Mar Vista property sits on San Juan’s outer shore, famed for its whale watching and watery views into Canada. Next door is the False Bay nature preserve owned and used for research by the University of Washington.

Not long after he bought the Mar Vista, Honeywell proceeded to mar the vista.

The Washington Department of Ecology fined Orca Dreams this week for removing at least 80 trees from 1.25 acres of shoreline and clearing the vegetation down to bare soil.

“It was basically clear-cut, so all of the trees were cut down to a pretty low stump height, then it was burned,” said Doug Allen, head of the Washington Department of Ecology’s office in Bellingham.

“It’s a steep slope, so it’s susceptible to erosion, and that material can get down, wash into the nearby shoreline and the waters of the bay, and that’s a water quality violation,” Allen said.

While it's just one property on a big island, scientists say loss of shoreline habitat is one of the biggest obstacles to the state’s mandate of restoring the health of Puget Sound by the year 2020. Individual property owners do most of the damage to shorelines, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Property rights groups in the San Juans and elsewhere in the state see government overreach as counties’ shoreline regulations are updated under the eye of the Ecology Department.

Friday Harbor attorney Stephanie Johnson O’Day, who is representing Honeywell and his wife, said the couple accepts responsibility for their contractor clearing more brush than they wanted.

“Admittedly, the fellow who did the brush clearing went overboard,” she said. “But it wasn’t clear-cutting. Instead of thinning out the bushes, he took out all the bushes.”

O’Day said the Honeywells are being “crucified” for something that’s been blown completely out of proportion.

Ecology officials said the clearing took out dozens of trees more than a foot in diameter.

Allen said the Honeywells have been “more or less cooperative,” applying for permits in December, shortly after being notified of their offense. He said their cooperation led to a reduced fine. They could have been hit with a fine of more than $500,000.

Allen said the couple's wealth was not a factor in calculating the fine.

The state ordered Orca Dreams to submit a restoration plan by Aug. 31 and to complete re-planting the site by Oct. 31.

The Honeywells’ attorney said the couple will appeal the fine.

Orca Dreams also proposed building a 271-foot-long dock jutting out into orca habitat. After receiving more than 100 public comments, San Juan County revoked its approval of the design.

O’Day said the Honeywells are now working on a proposal for a shorter dock.

“It will not be visible from the False Bay preserve,” she said.

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