September 29, 2008

EPA Fines Couple $115,000 for Wetlands Violation


TOMHEGAN TOWNSHIP - A New York couple who violated federal wetlands protection rules when they expanded a private airstrip and developed a rock quarry at their seasonal property have been fined $115,000.

Robert and Gayle Greenhill, who own more than 3,200 acres on Moosehead Lake's western shore, were fined for filling 1.5 acres of freshwater wetlands on their property between 2001 and 2005, David Deegan, public affairs spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said this week.

The Greenhills, whose seasonal home and outbuildings are valued at $15.5 million, did not obtain the necessary permits before work was done on the airstrip and rock quarry. They also failed to obtain a permit in 1997 before they constructed a trout pond that disrupted wetlands. An after-the-fact permit was granted to the Greenhills on the 1997 violation.

Since the Greenhills already had one violation on the books, the Environmental Protection Agency imposed a penalty for the second violation. In addition, they were ordered to do mitigation work and will be monitored.

"It was primarily significant because it was a second violation," Margery Adams, EPA senior enforcement council, said this week.

Attorney Virginia Davis of Augusta, who according to Adams represented the Greenhills in the matter, did not return telephone calls Friday for comment.

Adams said there has been a long history of permitting between the Greenhills and the Land Use Regulation Commission. It was during the permitting process that the first violation involving the trout pond came to light, she said.

The Greenhills had filed for a number of permits but not a wetlands permit, according to Shawn Mahaney, one of the state's Army Corps of Engineers project officers. The pond was discovered when the couple submitted the plans for the original runway to LURC. After being told that the Greenhills had the pond constructed, the Army Corps took action and ultimately issued an after-the-fact permit. Among the conditions stipulated were that no additional filling of waters for development be done without written approval from the Army Corps.

After-the-fact permits typically require that mitigation and restoration work be done along the same lines that would have been required if they had properly applied for a permit, Adams said.

The responsibilities under the Clean Water Act are split between the Army Corps and the EPA, according to Adams. The Army Corps does the permitting and the EPA generally does the enforcement action, she said.

On the latest violation, an administrative complaint filed in June alleged that the Greenhills discharged pollutants - sand and gravel - into waters. From August 2001 to 2003, the Greenhills or people under their supervision filled sand and gravel into wetlands during the 985-foot expansion of the western end of an existing runway. The wetlands on the eastern end of the runway are part of a large wetland system that's adjacent to and connected to an unnamed tributary to Socatean Stream, which flows into Moosehead Lake, according to the complaint.

As for the rock quarry, the complaint said an access road and equipment corridor for the quarry was developed through several wetland areas using an excavator and bulldozer. Wetland areas also were affected by blasting and rock removal, and some materials from the rock quarry were placed in wetland areas, according to Deegan.

The EPA was informed about the latest violations by a consultant for the Greenhills who noticed they had failed to get a wetlands permit, according to Adams.

Mark Mahoney, EPA wetlands enforcement officer, said this week the Greenhills have "pretty much" completed the mitigation work required for the violation. He said the couple had to create other wetlands on the property. In addition, they must monitor the conformance of those new wetlands for the next five years and report back to the EPA annually for the next five years, he said.

"This was certainly worthy of the attention it received," Mahoney said.

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