Jan 04, 2008

Ala. DOT Fined for Polluting Mobile's Drinking Water

Mobile County's health officer says fine too small

The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) may face a $75,000 fine for letting mud run off a U.S. 98 construction site and flow into Mobile's drinking water, but Mobile County's health officer says the fine is too small, the Associated Press reported.

The fine proposed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) constitutes less than two-tenths of 1% of the $42 million cost of building the highway section.

ADEM could have proposed a steeper fine, up to $250,000, but compromised to "resolve the matter amicably," according to state documents reported Jan. 3 by the Press-Register.

ALDOT also will be responsible for removing some sediment from Big Creek Lake as well as certain creeks and wetlands.

The agency will make a final decision on the fine after a period for public comment, which began Jan. 2 and runs until Feb. 1.

"It's a slap on the hand. Why should anyone try to comply with the law when the economic penalties are so small?" said Mobile County health officer Dr. Bert Eichol. "It appears it is in (ALDOT’s) economic interest to violate the law and pay a token penalty levied by a sister agency, rather than comply with federal law."

The fine would be paid out of the State Road and Bridge Fund, transportation officials said, meaning it will come from tax dollars. After subtracting expenses related to policing the site, ADEM will return the balance to the state's General Fund.