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Associated Press

POLSON (AP) - A Flathead Lake barge operator was arrested after being indicted for violating the Clean Water Act by allegedly spilling oil into the lake.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean said Timothy L. Knopfle of Kalispell is the first person in Montana to be charged under the Oil Pollution Act, a section of the law typically enforced for spills along ocean coasts.

Knopfle, 28, was arrested by federal marshals Thursday at Big Arm, along the west shore of Flathead Lake.

He pleaded innocent in U.S. District Court at Missoula on Friday but remains jailed while U.S. Magistrate Bart Erickson determines conditions for his release.

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Knopfle on five felonies based on evidence gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency's criminal investigation division.

"I was arguing in court today that he's at risk of flight, because he's told people that if he gets charged for this, he's leaving the country," McLean said.

Knopfle, the owner of Advanced Docks and Decks, was charged with three felony counts of "knowingly discharging oil" into Flathead Lake on three different occasions.

The government contends Knopfle pumped harmful quantities of oil from the bilge of his barge on July 22, 2000, at Zelezney Bay near Rollins; on May 2, 2001, at Angel Point and on May 23, 2001, at Woods Bay.

Each of those charges carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $50,000 fine. The minimum fine for each charge is $5,000.

Knopfle also is charged with two counts of failing to report the spills. Those charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Knopfle's barge has sunk three times on Flathead Lake, most recently in February. The barge went beneath the water at Angel Point, the same place it sank on April 28, 2001. It sank again in Woods Bay in May 2001.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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