Life is the pits for three Brighton, Colo.-area property owners and a Greeley, Colo., company. They face $137,500 in federal penalties for allegedly damaging wetlands while mining gravel at the Baseline Mine near Brighton.
In an administrative complaint filed in Denver, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charged Peter and Cindy Baurer and Carl Eiberger, all of Weld County, and Greeley-based Hall-Irwin Corp. with violating portions of the Clean Water Act designed to protect wetlands.
EPA claims that Hall-Irwin bulldozed soil, gravel and bentonite to create a "slurry wall," which keeps water out of the area during gravel mining operations. Mining operations in the immediate area had not yet begun. However, Hall-Irwin and other gravel mining companies also realize a major economic benefit by creating a water impoundment for water storage following mining. The site is one-half mile west of the South Platte river immediately north of Baseline Road in Weld County on properties owned by the Baurers and Eiberger.
EPA alleges the work impacted 3.39 acres of wetlands adjacent to the river. In a 1999 action, EPA had ordered the parties to correct the damage and has been working with them on a restoration plan.
The Clean Water Act allows some work in wetlands and waterways under a permit program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA. The program has a goal of "no net loss" of wetlands. Where loss of wetlands is unavoidable, permits usually require mitigation of the harm.
"The parties in this case failed to obtain a permit for the work," said EPA enforcement chief Carol Rushin in Denver. "We seek penalties in such instances so that people don't realize an economic benefit for having violated the law. It also assures that those operators who do comply with the law do not suffer an economic disadvantage."
Wetlands enjoy special protection under the CWA because of their important functions in natural systems. Permits help assure that work done in such areas takes appropriate measures to protect waterways and their surroundings.
"Gravel mining operators, property owners or contractors planning to do any stream alterations should always contact the nearest Corps of Engineers' office before starting work to see if they need a permit," Rushin said.
The Clean Water Act provides for penalties of up to $27,500 for each day that illegal fill remains in wetlands, Rushin noted. The respondents have 30 days in which to contest the facts in the complaint or the amount of the penalty. They may also seek a hearing before an administrative law judge.
edited by Sandy Smith