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Federal biologist hit with suspension over L.A. River kayak trip

October 8, 2008 |  6:01 pm

Yep_its_a_real_river Remember the kayak expedition earlier this year down the rugged Los Angeles River? Well, there are some serious consequences for at least one of those involved, according to AP:

A federal biologist was threatened with a 30-day job suspension over a kayaking trip she took to protest perceived government threats to the Los Angeles River and other waterways, according to documents released Wednesday.

Heather Wylie, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles, went kayaking on the river one Saturday in July to draw attention to a proposal by the corps that could have exempted parts of the Los Angeles River from federal clean water protections.

Shortly thereafter, her supervisors told her they were proposing to suspend her for 30 days without pay because of the “unsafe and unauthorized boating expedition” and because of an “unauthorized and inappropriate e-mail message” she had sent to co-workers about the clean water issue.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility announced plans Wednesday to file a whistle-blower complaint on Wylie’s behalf, and released the letter she received from her supervisors.

That photo's of another kayaker during a different expedition. For more on the biologist, keep reading after the jump.

--Shelby Grad

Photo: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

In an interview, Wylie said her employers were violating her 1st Amendment rights.
“It’s really silly because it was on my day off, it’s my freedom of speech, I have the right to say I don’t agree with what you’re doing,” said Wylie, who added that she’s worked for the corps in Los Angeles for 4 1/2 years. “I was doing the right thing, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in a democracy.”

Jay Field, a spokesman for the corps in Los Angeles, declined to comment. “Out of respect for the privacy rights of all of our employees, the Los Angeles district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot comment,” he said in a statement.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility replied on Wylie’s behalf to the notice of proposed suspension, but so far Wylie’s supervisors haven’t responded. It’s not clear whether they’ll attempt to move forward with the suspension.

At issue is a proposal by the corps earlier this year to declare only small portions of the Los Angeles River to be “traditionally navigable waters” and therefore subject to the Clean Water Act. Similar determinations were being considered for other rivers around the country.
The decision prompted complaints from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Environmental Protection Agency subsequently stepped in and took jurisdiction from the corps to determine whether the Los Angeles River and the Santa Cruz River in Arizona would be subject to Clean Water Act protections.

The point of the kayaking trip Wylie went on with other activists was to prove that the Los Angeles River is, in fact, navigable.

The river runs 51 miles from the northwestern San Fernando Valley, around the eastern side of downtown Los Angeles and south to Long Beach Harbor. Lined with concrete along most of its route to prevent meandering and flooding, it flows at a trickle, if at all, during dry periods but can turn into a raging torrent during storms. Wylie said she participated in one day of a three-day kayaking trip and kayaked about 20 miles downstream from the edge of the Sepulveda Basin.

Her supervisors found out about it when they saw a photo of her on the trip on the Internet, according to the notice of proposed suspension.

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