ATLANTA, Georgia, November 9, 2009 (ENS) – Two related home building companies based in Atlanta have agreed to pay a $350,000 civil penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.

In addition to the civil penalty, John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods Inc., and John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods of the Carolinas Inc. have also agreed to implement company-wide stormwater compliance programs at their construction sites that go beyond current regulatory requirements.

EPA estimates that the agreement will keep approximately 37 million pounds of sediment from polluting the nation’s waterways every year.

“The Clean Water Act requires environmental controls in order to protect nearby waterways from pollutants that commonly are found on construction sites,” said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement requires these companies to now take steps beyond the law to protect public health and the environment.”

The John Wieland companies build luxury homes and gated communities across the southeast, in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The companies have won awards, including America’s Best Builder, National Builder of the Year, and the National Housing Quality Award.

But the federal government complaint alleges a common pattern of violations that was discovered by reviewing documentation submitted by the companies and through federal site inspections between April 2003 and August 2004.

The alleged violations include not obtaining permits until after construction had begun or failing to obtain the required permits at all. At the sites that did have permits, violations included failure to prevent or minimize the discharge of pollutants, such as silt and debris, in stormwater runoff.

Wieland’s construction activities allowed pollutants, including rock, sand, cellar dirt, industrial waste, solid waste, and other pollutants, to enter streams, creeks, and other water bodies that are “waters of the United States,” the government’s complaint alleges.

“Unless enjoined, these violations will continue or will recur at other construction sites,” the government states.

The settlement requires the companies to develop improved pollution prevention plans for each site, increase site inspections and promptly correct any problems that are detected.

The companies must properly train construction managers and contractors, and are required to have trained staff present at each construction site. They also must implement a management and internal reporting system to improve oversight of on-the-ground operations and submit annual reports to EPA.

“Failure to properly control stormwater runoff at construction sites can have serious consequences for the environment,” said Stan Meiburg, EPA Region 4 acting regional administrator. “This agreement will result in better management practices that will ultimately lead to greater protection of rivers, lakes and streams across the Southeast.”

Improving compliance at construction sites is one of EPA’s national enforcement priorities. Construction projects have a high potential for environmental harm because they disturb large areas of land and significantly increase the potential for erosion.

Without onsite pollution controls, sediment-laden runoff from construction sites can flow directly to the nearest waterway and degrade water quality. In addition, stormwater can pick up other pollutants, including concrete washout, paint, used oil, pesticides, solvents and other debris. Polluted runoff can harm or kill fish and wildlife and can affect drinking water quality.

The 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 basic pollution prevention techniques such as silt fences, phased site grading, and sediment basins to prevent common construction contaminants from entering the nation’s waterways.

Along with the federal government, the state of Tennessee has joined the settlement. The state will receive a portion of the penalties based on the number of sites located within the state.

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 multiple home building companies.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The companies are required to pay the penalty within 30 days of the court’s approval of the settlement.

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