BRUNEAU—Ace Black Ranch finally got an inspection report from the EPA. That’s after a summer of struggling with drought and heat issues. The visit by armed US Marshalls and EPA inspectors came on June 16th. Now all they have is the inspection report, no charges, and no reason for such a heavy-handed search:
“The Marshalls were good,” said Terry Black of Ace Black Ranch. “They were heavily armed but were good guys and thought this was a waste of time too.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has not said what they were looking for, but this past week issued a mysterious 4-page document. Ace Black attorney Norm Semanko:
“Low and behold they get an inspection report in the mail. And inspection report seems to suggest that the EPA was looking for wet spots on an irrigated farm, congratulations on that! Looking at farm equipment basically, and also, most remarkably they were inspecting irrigation pivots. So we know from talking to the Blacks that the EPA also looked at irrigation ditches and diversions of water. How any of that factors into a potential Clean Water Act violation, we’re all scratching our heads even more than we were before. So there you have it,” said Semanko.
“This ranch has been in the family since 1875, different branches of the family my grandpa bought it in 1967, and then my Dad started buying from him thereafter and we started buying from him shortly thereafter,” said Terry Black.
For 14 decades of ranching, Ace Black has been faithful stewards of the land. First with flood irrigation and now with the best management practice of pivot irrigation, that keeps soil in place and more efficient use of scarce water on arid land:
“If we don’t take care of it, it washes out the fields into CJ Strike and dumps it washes out all the farm ground and that's why we take care of it, We have to take care of the land because there isn’t any more farm ground,” added Black.
The Blacks and Attorney Norm Semanko call the search unreasonable, and it’s sent a shock wave through every Idaho farm and ranch along river banks in Idaho and still, there are no answers.
“We’d just like to know what they were looking for and their response was the EPA is sending you some questions in the next day or two if you answer their questions, that answer our questions. So what I see there is that their mind was made up, EPA was taking the lead from the Corp of Engineers before the Corp even talked to us,” said Telby Black.
Unannounced the EPA showed up at Ace-Black ranch’s front gate the morning of June 14th.
“The main focus seemed to be anything near or around the river channel,” added Telby Black who observed the inspections. After almost three days of the EPAs search, the inspectors abruptly packed up and left. They didn’t say what they found, or what warranted the search. On July 23rd the case was in Federal District Court in Boise. The Blacks were never told what they were charged with.
“Ace Black Ranches has changed our irrigation. We went from flood irrigation to center pivots, ” said Telby Black. The Bruneau River Conservation District says the Ranch does everything by the book and even took measures to conserve water:
“Through a number of water conservation projects, everyone supports everyone else. This a drought year and water is short, so Ace Black putting in pivots was very helpful,” said Rayola Jacobsen of the conservation district.
Meanwhile, Ace Black Ranch is still playing the waiting game—waiting to see if the EPA will charge them, waiting for life to get back to normal. For the Voice of Idaho Ag, I'm Jake Putnam