EPA charges three companies with stormwater violations at Massachusetts development

Jan. 23, 2004
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it has filed complaints against three New Hampshire-based companies for alleged violations of stormwater regulations at a residential development in Methuen, Massachusetts.

BOSTON, Mass., Jan. 23, 2004 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it has filed complaints against three New Hampshire-based companies for alleged violations of stormwater regulations at a residential development in Methuen, Massachusetts.

The companies are Methuen Group Realty Trust, which owns the "Birch Hill Estates" subdivision; Ashwood Development Companies, the developer and general contractor for the development; and Park Construction Companies, the company responsible for road construction and utility installation at the site. The complaint seeks up to $137,500 for the alleged violations.

The complaint is part of an ongoing EPA initiative to bolster enforcement and improve compliance of stormwater regulations at construction sites across New England.

"Controlling stormwater runoff from construction sites is necessary to protecting wetlands and other waters of the United States" said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England Office. "Everyone involved in construction sites needs to make sure that controls are in place to prevent environmental damage."

The complaint stems from inspections at the 75-acre residential development. Construction began at the site in 1998. EPA's complaint alleges that the companies failed to obtain required federal stormwater permits and failed to fully prepare and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan. EPA inspections revealed that because of incomplete and poorly maintained controls, sediments and solids were being discharged off the construction site into adjoining wetlands and a brook. The Town of Methuen Conservation Commission issued an enforcement order to the developers in 2001 for similar violations.

Rainwater running off construction sites can carry sediments, oil and various other pollutants into nearby streams, ponds and rivers. Erosion from a one-acre construction site could discharge as much as 20 to 150 tons of sediment in one year if not properly managed. Sediments reduce the storage capacity of drains and waterways, causing flooding, and adversely affect water quality and fish habitat.

Sediments and chemicals can also contribute to fish die-offs, toxic algae blooms, contaminated shellfish beds and closed swimming beaches. In 1998, more than 1,500 beach closings and advisories in U.S. coastal and Great Lakes communities were attributed to stormwater runoff from construction sites and streets, parking lots, agricultural lands and yards.

Federal stormwater rules require all parties conducting construction activity disturbing at least one acre of soil to develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention plan that meets federal guidelines.

Stormwater plans, once implemented, will minimize erosion, reduce sediment loss and prevent negative byproducts of construction operations and maintenance (oils, gas, grease, chemicals, equipment washout and trash) from polluting stormwater that runs off the sites and ultimately discharges to our waterways.

Among other things, the plans call for frequent inspections of stormwater controls during construction activities so that any observed control failure can be fixed as soon as possible.

EPA has boosted its enforcement presence against developers of construction sites who fail to comply with stormwater regulatory requirements, both locally and nationally. In New England, EPA has completed over 50 inspections of construction sites since July, 2001 and has obtained penalties in several stormwater construction cases.

EPA's national enforcement initiative has also resulted in penalty cases including an enforcement settlement with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2002, in which the company agreed to pay a $1 million penalty and implement a $4.5 million environmental management plan stemming from widespread stormwater violations at 17 locations in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Massachusetts.

EPA has also developed written materials, web sites, workshops, and other products to help those involved in construction projects understand how to comply with stormwater laws. EPA New England's stormwater web site contains many of these resources at http://www.epa.gov/region01/topics/water/stormwater.html.

Developers seeking further assistance can contact Abby Swaine, of EPA NE's Assistance Unit, at 617-918-1841 or [email protected].

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