, August 18, 2009 (ENS) - Just two years ago, one of the largest luxury home developers in the Southeast and Midwest was honored for its stormwater control practices, but today the same company was fined over half-a-million dollars to settle allegations of Clean Water Act violations on housing developments in three states.
According to a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Cooper Land Development has agreed to pay a $513,740 civil penalty to settle the allegations that it failed to properly manage construction site stormwater runoff and implement erosion control at five of its housing developments located in Missouri, West Virginia and Arkansas.
The penalty will be paid in four annual installments, plus interest, according to the consent decree.
The decree also requires Cooper to implement a company-wide stormwater compliance program that provides for improved environmental performance and increased oversight of its operations at all of its current and future construction sites, the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced today.
A house at Creekmore, a Cooper Community in Raymore, Missouri (Photo courtesy Cooper Communities)
The settlement resolves a civil complaint filed September 22, 2008, in which federal authorities alleged that inspections in 2006 found Cooper Land Development had violated the terms of separate National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits issued by state environmental authorities for its Creekmoor housing development in Raymore, Missouri, and the Glade Springs Village housing development near Daniels, West Virgina.
In Arkansas, the company allowed illegal stormwater discharges at Bella Vista Village construction site in Benton County; the Hot Springs Village construction site in Garland and Saline counties; and the Sienna Lake development in Little Rock.
The federal Clean Water Act requires that construction sites have controls in place to prevent pollution from being discharged with stormwater into nearby waterways. These controls include simple pollution prevention techniques such as silt fences, phased site grading and sediment basins to prevent common construction contaminants from entering the nationís waterways.
EPA estimates that by implementing the terms and conditions of this settlement, approximately 4,335 tons of construction sediments will be kept from polluting the nationís waterways.
"The failure to properly control stormwater runoff at construction sites can have serious consequences for the environment," said William Rice, acting administrator for EPA Region 7. "EPA will enforce the laws and regulations to ensure that stormwater runoff is properly managed in a way that protects our fragile ecosystems."
Besides causing soil erosion and clogging streams with sediment, construction site stormwater runoff can pick up other pollutants such as debris, pesticides, chemicals and solvents.
Sediment-laden runoff can result in the loss of in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic species, killing fish directly, destroying their spawning beds and blocking sunlight, which can result in reduced growth of beneficial aquatic grasses, the EPA says.
Cooper knows all of the dangers of construction stormwater runoff well and has done much better at controlling discharges in the past.
In 2007, the company earned an environmental stewardship award from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for its stormwater control program at Glade Springs Village in Daniels.
Cooper opened Glade Springs Village in 2001 and started work on a second phase in 2005. It was during the second phase of construction that EPA inspectors found the violations Cooper was fined for today.
During the first phase of construction, Cooper developed a master plan that used low-impact techniques to lessen the impact of stormwater runoff into Glade Creek - complete with diversion ditches and sediment traps prior to road construction, and site reclamation after completion of the roads.
"The West Virginia project demonstrated vast improvements in stormwater management and compliance," Jeremy Bandy, an inspector with the Department of Environmental Protection, said at the 2007 award ceremony. "The master development plan was created to minimize impacts to Glade Creek, and street construction and the installation of an 18-hole golf course have been completed without compromising the environment."
Founded in 1954, Cooper Communities, Inc., headquartered in Rogers, Arkansas, employs more than 600 people in projects across eight states. Through its subsidiaries the company develops timeshare resorts and planned communities, owns and manages more than 3.5 million square feet of commercial property and is one of Arkansasí largest homebuilders.
The company has other environmental awards to its credit. Cooper is a recipient of the Stockton Award from the Northwest Arkansas Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy has established the Cooper Family Conservation Award, which is presented annually to a business that makes outstanding contributions to conservation in Arkansas.
This settlement is the latest in a series of enforcement actions to address stormwater violations from construction sites around the country. Similar consent decrees have been reached with companies like Home Depot and four major home building companies.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department website.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.
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