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Creek Dumping to Cost Contractor $900K

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

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A California contractor will spend about $900,000 on fines, mitigation measures and environmental contributions for illegally dumping tons of fill material into a San Francisco-area creek.

Thomas Staben and his construction company, TA Staben Inc., of Moorpark, CA, will pay a $225,000 penalty and remediate the damage caused by illegally dumping the fill, excavated from elsewhere, into a Ventura County creek, under a proposed U.S. District Court Consent Decree signed Dec. 30 and announced Jan. 11 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2,000 Dump Trucks

Calleguas Creek, also known as Arroyo Las Posas, is the main freshwater source for the Mugu Lagoon Estuary, one of Southern California’s largest coastal wetland systems and home to various endangered species.

 Aerial photos show Calleguas Creek at the Staben site on Sept. 1, 2004, (left) before the dumping and one year later, after the fill

 Photos: Airphoto USA

Aerial photos show Calleguas Creek at the Staben site on Sept. 1, 2004, (left) before the dumping and one year later, after the fill.

According to the EPA, Staben “illegally filled Calleguas Creek with 40,000 cubic yards of material—the equivalent of about 2,000 large dump truck loads.” The fill consisted of earthen and rock materials and vegetative debris, according to EPA’s 2007 violation letter to Staben.

Under the proposed Consent Decree, Staben would remove all 40,000 cubic yards of the material from the 4.8-acre site, restore the creek’s natural functions, and replant the area with native vegetation. EPA estimates the cost of the restoration and mitigation projects at more than $500,000.

‘A Strong Message’

“Restoring Calleguas Creek is a win for the environment and for the local community,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld. “Today’s settlement signals EPA’s commitment to protect coastal California’s watersheds and sends a strong message to those who would despoil them.”

The Clean Water Act requires anyone who proposes to fill or alter protected waterways with dredged or fill material to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

EPA says Staben filled nearly five acres of the creek between 2005 and 2006 without a permit, “despite several warnings by the Army Corps of Engineers to stop.”

The illegal fill “substantially reduced the active floodplain in this portion of the creek, increasing potential flooding of adjacent properties and contributing” to bioaccumulation problems that harmed endangered species and other wildlife, EPA said.

Staben, whom EPA says has a “history of noncompliance dating back to 1989,” was cited by the Corps several times for unpermitted work in Calleguas Creek and the Ventura River.

Restoration Project

The creek has been the subject of extensive local, state and federal studies and protection efforts “due to its ecological significance and impaired water quality,” EPA said.

In addition to removing the fill and restoring the floodplain, Staben must create a two-acre vegetated embankment buffer between the floodplain and upland property.

He will also pay $150,000 into the Ventura River Watershed Habitat Restoration Fund, to benefit a project that aims to create nine acres of new stream habitats and maintain water quality for steelhead in the downstream Ventura River.

Staben did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.


Tagged categories: Construction; Contractors; Enforcement; Environmental Protection; EPA; Violations

Comment from Cipriano Guzman, (1/19/2012, 5:20 AM)

Let me see if I understand. He was issued warning from EPA back on 2007, EPA says has a “history of noncompliance dating back to 1989,” was cited by the Corps several times for unpermitted work in Calleguas Creek and the Ventura River. Now, with all these violation, he still continued, why was this case delayed? Why waiting so long? As one of my friend always says "it's not suppose to make sense"

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/19/2012, 12:08 PM)

I have to agree - if this is a critical watershed, why was this allowed to go on for so long unremediated?

Comment from Robert Ikenberry, (1/19/2012, 4:24 PM)

Contrary to EPA's assertion that this sends a "strong message", is appears that the contractor is getting off pretty light. California's Construction General Permit for Storm Water sets fines for illegal discharges (which are usually inadvertent or due to poor controls - not gross dumping) of $10,000 per day and $10 per gallon. The permit is California's enforcement of the Clean Water Act for construction projects. If this dumping continued over a working-day year (250 days) and each cubic yard impacted even just 10 gallons of water in the adjacent stream, the fine could presumably have been $2.5 million for the time and $4 million for the water. All the costs in the consent agreement work out to only about $22.50 per cubic yard, so he probably won't be too worried the next time he considers doing something similar. Plus, they still have to get him to do the remediation work...

Comment from william cash-robertson, (1/20/2012, 8:09 AM)

EPA's penalty-setting process includes the use of economic models which factor in ability to pay and several other aspects of the business being fined. On the surface I would assume that the amount of the penalty carries enough of a "hurt" level to act as a deterrent. A good Consent Decree would include stipulated penalties to essentially force the work to happen on a specific timetable, as a means of ensuring that the work will actually be done. I'll bet a better deterrent would be to make the guy attend a couple dozen contractor conventions and speak to the audiences about what he did and what it cost him in time, lawyer's fees and penalties - I would think THAT would deter anyone from doing what he did!

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