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EPA fines county $9,500 for lack of permit on creek projects

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The county will pay a $9,500 fine that’s rarely issued after a federal agency said the surveyor didn’t get permits before putting stones in two creeks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the county violated the national Clean Water Act when a contractor put riprap, or stones that are used to prevent erosion, into Grassy Creek and one of its tributaries, Short Run. Both are considered U.S. waterways, so local governments are required to get a permit before moving dirt or adding materials in the creeks under federal law, according to a settlement agreement

The agency cited two instances when a contractor added stones without a permit. The first incident occurred between March 2008 and July 2009, when stones were put along more than 10,000 feet of Grassy Creek. The second incident was in May 2011, when about 1,200 feet of riprap was put into Short Run. Both creeks are located in Pleasant Township near New Whiteland, about a half-mile west of U.S. 31.

Most fines and waterway violations are handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees clean water programs and can file lawsuits or issue fines when violations happen. Those instances are rare, with only about 10 fines issued in Indiana since the mid-1990s, enforcement officer Greg Carlson said.

 The Clean Water Act protects public waterways from pollution from chemicals or waste products but also prevents people and governments from dumping solid objects into the water.

Johnson County officials had gotten permits for similar work in the past and should have known they were needed for these projects, he said.

“The agency chose to enforce because this county drainage board and this surveyor had much prior knowledge and has gotten the permits. We consider that flagrant,” Carlson said.

Johnson County Surveyor Doug Lechner declined to comment about the fine, stating he has not received any final notice about the settlement. Lechner and county drainage board president Rick Chase signed the settlement agreement on June 3. The EPA currently is going through a public hearing period where people can comment on the settlement agreement. Once that period closes at the end of the month, the settlement can be finalized and the county will pay the penalty.

The county drainage board oversees ditches and drains in the county, but the surveyor is responsible for conducting maintenance work and getting permits for projects, drainage board attorney Roger Young said. Drainage board members weren’t aware of the violations until they received the notice from the EPA, he said.

The $9,500 penalty will be paid out of county tax dollars, coming from the food and beverage tax fund, which is collected from a 1 percent tax people pay when eating at restaurants, Johnson County Auditor’s Office deputy Amy Thompson said.

The permits would have cost about $200 total if they had been applied for and likely would have been granted for the routine work, Johnson County Council members said when discussing the issue in May.

The EPA sent a notice of the violations and offered to allow the county to pay a penalty in order to avoid a lawsuit. The agency originally asked for a settlement of $19,000, which the county rejected. The agency rejected the county’s counteroffer of $7,500 before both sides agreed to the $9,500 fee. The county could have been liable for up to $177,500 in penalties, according to the settlement agreement.

The county used contractor Nasby Construction for both projects, which used equipment including an excavator, backhoe and bulldozer to put the riprap into the creeks, according to the settlement document. The surveyor and drainage board did not have a permit for either of the projects completed by the contractor, the agreement said.

Calls to Nasby Construction this week were not returned.

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