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Accused White City polluter returns to court

A White City man who skipped his trial on felony pollution charges surfaced in court Wednesday to face allegations he dumped garbage in a creek while running an illegal White City auto-salvage yard he later abandoned, stiffing the landlord for the cleanup.

Joshua Michael Smith, 43, appeared in Jackson County Circuit Court Wednesday to answer a bench warrant issued for him April 4 when he failed to show up for a court appearance two days before he was scheduled to go on trial for two felony and three misdemeanor counts stemming from the operation in the 7900 block of West 11th Street.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia rescinded the warrant Wednesday and granted him a court-appointed attorney, court records show.

Smith was released on his own recognizance and was ordered back to court May 23 for a pre-trial conference, court documents show.

The case began in February 2013 when the state Department of Environmental Quality received a complaint about an "unpermitted auto-wrecking facility" at which several solid-waste violations were found, DEQ files state.

In its investigation, the agency said, it recorded 37 tons of metal, including dismantled vehicles, vehicle parts and home appliances. And they found about 1,035 waste tires and 255 gallons of unidentified fluids stored in various containers.

DEQ officials also documented another 10 tons of garbage, some of which was dumped in an unnamed creek that flows into the state's nearby state Denman Wildlife Area.

Environmental laws forbid the disposal of solid waste anywhere except in a permitted facility, such as a landfill or transfer station. Oregon law allows the storage of up to 100 tires on residential or industrial property without a permit, provided they are properly stored and managed.

Smith in 2013 was ordered to pay about $18,000 in civil fines for the operation, and the $25,000 cleanup bill eventually fell to the landlord.

Smith was indicted in October on two counts each of first- and second-degree unlawful water pollution as well as one count of discarding refuse within 100 yards of state waters. The first-degree pollution charges are Class B felonies, while the rest are misdemeanors.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.