Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Wednesday

November 14, 2012

Man fined for building on bird preserve

He created volleyball court on Kirtland's Warbler habitat

ROSCOMMON (AP) — A man who built a professional-grade volleyball court on federal land set aside to protect an endangered bird in northern Michigan was ordered to pay $34,000 and sentenced to a year's probation, federal prosecutors said.

William R. Colston of Chesaning and his family have encroached for decades on federal land adjoining their Roscommon County vacation home and ignored repeated warnings from the government, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement.

The affected area is part of the Kirtland's Warbler Wildlife Management Area, about 55 miles southeast of Traverse City. The endangered Kirtland's warbler is a small, ground-nesting bird, and the males are known for their bright yellow chests.

McQuade said natural resources are Michigan's "greatest asset. We have an obligation to preserve our lakes, air and lands for future generations and for the native wildlife that lives there."

Colston's lawyer, James F. Piazza, said there was "nothing malicious" in his client's conduct and said Colston had been trying to negotiate with federal officials to lease or buy the parcel of land when the charges were filed.

"The whole issue was blown out of proportion," Piazza said. "It could have been settled without criminal charges."

Other nearby property owners also had "created more modest encroachments on the federal land, but removed those encroachments when so directed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (and) avoided prosecution," said McQuade's spokeswoman, Gina Balaya.

But Colston ignored repeated orders from the federal agency to remove his encroachments, and instead added to them in summer 2011, the government said.

"He hired contractors to install a new, sand volleyball court, in part by having sand hauled and dumped on the refuge, two new horseshoe pits with backboards, and a new stone outdoor shower pad," Balaya said. "The area illegally occupied by Colston had electrical service to the pole lights and a sound system on the professional-caliber sand volleyball court, as well as plumbing to operate the outdoor shower system."

Colston, 51, was charged in March and pleaded guilty in April to a federal misdemeanor charge of knowingly occupying U.S. property.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles E. Binder on Nov. 5 ordered Colston to pay a $1,000 fine, plus $26,000 to the Seney Natural History Association and $7,000 to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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