One of Richmond County’s largest highway projects also generated one of the largest civil Clean Water Act penalties assessed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast region office during the past fiscal year.
The Georgia Department of Transportation will pay $307,500 in civil fines and $24,000 in restoration costs for violations associated with the Walton Way and Interstate 20/Bobby Jones Expressway construction projects, according to an EPA enforcement activity summary released last week.
In all, the EPA’s Region IV office cited 16 entities throughout six Southeastern states for unauthorized discharge of sediment into streams and waterways. Such activities threaten water quality and damage natural ecosystems and habitat.
The Augusta case generated the largest such fine, according to the summary, which covered the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The federal penalties followed other enforcement actions by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which settled four cases from 2006 to 2009 in which the department agreed to pay $30,396 for buffer encroachments and related environmental violations; $176,000 for buffer encroachments and sediment washing into Crane Creek; $37,500 for improper erosion/pollution control measures that allowed sediment to enter a nearby creek; and $42,300 for stormwater and buffer encroachments, also along Crane Creek.
According to the EPA order, the waters impacted by the violations included — in addition to Crane Creek – Rae’s Creek, Rock Creek and the Augusta Canal.
Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972 to protect the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams, as well as fragile and vital wetland habitats. Wetlands are recognized as important features in the landscape that serve to protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, store floodwaters, and maintain surface water flow during dry periods, according to an EPA fact sheet.