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Both parties will pay $1.5 million penalty to resolve violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice announced Wright Brothers Construction Co. and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) have agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty and spend more than $1.3 million to offset environmental damages to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The civil penalty is one of the largest ever under provisions prohibiting the unauthorized discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S.
“Dumping dirt and waste rock into our nation’s waters threatens water quality and aquatic habitats,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The settlement will restore damaged streams, protecting trout habitat and recreational opportunities for the people of northeastern Georgia.”
The complaint alleges that between 2004 and 2007, Wright Brothers, with approval from GDOT, buried all or portions of seven primary trout streams in violation of the Act. Wright Brothers was hired by GDOT to dispose of excess soil and rock generated during two GDOT highway expansion projects in northeast Georgia.
The contracts between GDOT and Wright Brothers specifically required Wright Brothers to obtain written environmental clearance from GDOT prior to using any site as a fill site. GDOT approved sites that included streams considered to be waters of the U.S. These actions resulted in the unauthorized disposal of more than 1 million cu yd of excess rock and soil, impacting approximately 2,800 ln ft of stream.
Burying and piping streams can destroy valuable aquatic habitat and threaten water quality. The reduced water quality may have adversely impacted downstream trout populations, which are a major recreational resource to the region. All of the streams that were filled are tributaries of either Lake Burton or Tallulah Falls Lake.
Under the settlement, Wright Brothers and GDOT must perform injunctive relief measures, including purchasing 16,920 mitigation credits at an estimated cost of $1.35 million to offset the impacts to waters of the U.S. that cannot be restored. The credits must be purchased from mitigation banks servicing the area in which the violations occurred. A mitigation bank is a wetland, stream or other aquatic resource area that has been set aside for the purpose of providing compensation for impacts to aquatic resources that occurred under a federal, state or local permit.
Wright Brothers and GDOT will also remove the piping from and restore the bed and bank of a 150-ft stream channel that was impacted from the disposal activities. The estimated cost of this work is $25,000. When complete, the restoration activities and injunctive relief measures will mitigate the 2,800 ft of stream impacted by the violations.
The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.