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Road Construction Contractor to Pay $735,000 Fine for Stormwater Discharges

On January 3, 2013, a general contractor for the Oregon Department of Transportation, Granite Construction Co., settled allegations of Clean Water Act stormwater permit discharge violations for $735,000. The settlement is currently subject to a 30-day comment period as reflected in the January 18, 2013, federal register notice.

EPA Region 9 and the U.S. Department of Justice allege that the California-based contractor discharged large quantities of sediment-laden construction stormwater runoff into navigable waters and tributaries of the Yaquina River. According to the Complaint, the discharges resulted from slope failures and rainfall events on unstablized slopes, as well as the company’s clearing, grading, and excavation activities. The discharges occurred during construction of the U.S. Highway 20 expansion project in Lincoln County, Oregon.

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants from a point source into waters of the United States, unless in compliance with a permit issued under the Act. The discharge prohibition includes stormwater discharges associated with construction activities involving clearing, grading, and excavation resulting in the disturbance of at least five acres of total land area. 40 CFR 122.26(b)(14)(x).

In addition to the civil penalty, the company is required to assign a special stormwater pollution control manager to all of its Oregon construction sites and ensure stormwater control training for all of its Oregon-based supervisors.

EPA’s and DOJ’s latest action on stormwater reflects the growing emphasis and focus on stormwater discharges by regulatory agencies. Two stormwater cases were argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2012, and a federal court in Virginia recently held that the EPA cannot regulate stormwater flow as a “surrogate” to control sediment runoff.