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MailTribune.com
  • Man jailed for illegal water

    Judge Mejia says Harrington is not 'a bad man' but has been 'dishonest'
  • An Eagle Point man was sentenced to 90 days in jail Monday for creating three illegal reservoirs on property he maintains he no longer owns.
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  • An Eagle Point man was sentenced to 90 days in jail Monday for creating three illegal reservoirs on property he maintains he no longer owns.
    Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia on Monday sentenced Gary Harrington to three months in jail for violating conditions of his probation and extended his post-prison supervision to five years. He has until April 29 to report to jail, Mejia ordered.
    Harrington, 65, was found guilty of three counts of appropriating water without a permit, three counts of interfering with the use of water, and three counts of unauthorized use of water in a jury trial before Judge Tim Gerking on July 11. (Correction: Details of the conviction and sentence have been corrected in this story.)
    Harrington has been repeatedly convicted over an 11-year span for illegally storing water on his Crowfoot Road property without a permit. He even pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2008, but he refuses to drain the ponds as ordered by the court, Mejia said.
    "Most people, when caught in a criminal act, at least promise not to do the act again," Mejia said, adding Harrington was "willfully in violation of the orders of the court."
    Harrington has had ample time to drain the reservoirs as he was ordered to do earlier last summer after his conviction, and as a condition of his probation, Mejia said.
    Harrington uses dams to capture rain water that falls on his property. The water is collected in three reservoirs, one of which is 13 feet deep and close to an acre in size. The reservoirs are stocked with fish and lined with boat docks.
    Harrington has maintained the ponds are a valuable fire-suppression resource in the summer. He said fire departments have pulled water from the ponds to fight blazes.
    State officials counter that Harrington has illegally collected the water by building 20-foot-tall dams without permits.
    State law exempts water collected off parking lots or rooftops and funneled into rain barrels, water resources officials say. If it's not gathered on an artificial, impervious surface, such as a rooftop, then a property owner needs a state water right permit to collect it.
    Harrington claimed to have relinquished his property to what he called a private membership association. Harrington has said that more than 30 people have joined the organization that now owns his property.
    "My wife and I are done with the ponds," Harrington said, adding he still lives on and maintains the property for the new owners.
    Before a packed courtroom of Harrington's supporters, the judge took issue with Harrington's arguments that the ponds were no longer under his control.
    The state prosecutor said the current ownership is immaterial to the time of the crime and for the release of the water.
    "If the water's being illegally held, it doesn't matter who owns the (ponds)," Mejia agreed, adding there was no dispute regarding the ownership at the time of the violation.
    Mejia said Harrington's actions to quit claiming the property's title was done solely to avoid the legal consequences of his criminal acts.
    "He lives on the property. He controls the property. It's a sham," Mejia said.
    Harrington, who fired his attorney and served as his own counsel during the trial, also has regularly filed last-minute motions "in order to obstruct and delay the proceedings," Mejia said.
    Harrington's new attorney on Monday presented two character witnesses on behalf of his client. He asked for community service or home detention, stating Harrison was elderly, ill and not a danger to society.
    Mejia chided Harrington for walking out on an earlier sentencing hearing, which landed him a 12-day jail stint for contempt of court. Harrington asked the judge not to "equate (his) foolishness with being a criminal."
    Mejia chastised Harrington for pandering to the media, then playing the age/illness card instead of having the courage of his one-time very public convictions.
    "You put yourself forward as to the public as some kind of a crusader for property rights," Mejia said. "I'm not saying you're a horrible, bad man. But I find you have been dishonest with the court. You have been nothing but willful."
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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