You are here

Former Mount Rainier National Park Employee Guilty Of Violating Clean Water Act


A former Mount Rainier National Park employee has been found guilty of violating the Clean Water Act, a felony, for letting nearly 200,000 gallons of sewage flow into the Nisqually River.

Park Service officials say James Barber, who worked at the Paradise wastewater treatment plant, was found guilty December 9 by a jury. According to the agency, on August 27, 2011, Mr. Barber "intentionally bypassed part of the treatment process. He then left the plant for his three days off and failed to notify anyone of the bypass. As a result, approximately 180,000 gallons of minimally treated sewage were discharged, much of it eventually reaching the Nisqually River."

The cleanup and monitoring involved several park divisions, an NPS Public Health Service officer, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The investigation was led by EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division and the NPS Investigative Services Branch and included park staff.

Mr. Barber initially had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in 2012, but withdrew that plea before sentencing and exercised his constitutional right to a trial, according to Park Service officials.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office for the western district of Washington, "(T)he treatment plant is designed to provide advanced secondary treatment before the waste is discharged into a drainage ditch that flows into a waterfall. The waterfall flows into the Nisqually River."

When he entered a plea agreement, Mr. Barber admitted that "during spring and summer 2011, he failed to stop the build-up of solid waste in the treatment plant," the U.S. attorney noted in a press release issued at the time. "The filters became clogged and the advanced treatment portion of the plant would not operate properly. Instead of fixing the problem, Barber used a by-pass around the advanced treatment and surge storage tank. As a result minimally treated sewage was dumped directly into the drainage ditch and flowed into the waterfall and Nisqually River."


Not to defend the NPS 'saboteur', but he may not have been the only one with their feces unconsolidated. Jail time seems appropriate for this character, but it sounds to me as though the park could have been fined as well.

"Barber and his attorneys argued that he was not qualified or licensed to operate the plant on his own."

"The defense also pointed out that the plant had never been issued a permit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to operate, an issue that apparently continues at the plant today, according to court filings."

How does a 'green' agency like the NPS run a treatment plant without an EPA permit for years? Whatever his other failings, it may well be true that this operator was assigned a job for which he was not qualified. Just last year, Kurt wrote: "The survey also placed the agency [NPS] low compared to other federal agencies in and development (254 out of 290)..."

That much spilled sewage is obviously disgusting, but the long-term ecological damage might have been greater from the thousands of gallons of heating oil spilled at Narada Falls in 2001, for which no fines or penalties were announced:

But then again, at Mount Rainier, there's apparently a different standard for management's 'mistakes':

NPS officials were also quoted as saying:

"I don't know how this could happen he chose E on his occupational questionnaire!"

(if you know what a farce the NPS job application system is now you'll get the joke)

Perpetual seasonal, can you explain the "e" issue. A new one on me. I do think centralizing the NPS personnel functions was a mistake. At least in the larger areas, parks like Yosemite that have over 1000 NPS employees at the peak of the season, well the employment issues are complex and those enforcing the personnel regulations should be face to face at the operating level with the employees, not at the Denver Service Center grading employment applications. Many that do grade the applications have little concept of what the job entails, they key the scores to buzz words, etc. I at least I think that is part of the problem. Sign of the times perhaps, but it is another example of management functions to far removed from the on the ground operations. In fairness, some of this has to do with not funding the agency to the levels it needs to be, but I just do not think it helps. In any case, would be interested on your take of the issues here.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide