A prominent Washington State developer faces up to three years in prison and will pay $750,000 after pleading guilty to felony federal stormwater violations that led to two major landslides.
The charges against Bryan Stowe, 65, and Stowe Construction Inc., of Sumner, WA—the first stormwater pollution criminal charges brought in Western Washington—follow a long history of stormwater violations by what one federal official called the “rogue developer.”
|One of two mud slides unleashed by stormwater runoff oozes over a highway in Sumner, WA, in 2011. After years of uncontrolled runoff problems, the developer faces prison time.|
The state and Stowe have tangled over massive runoff problems since 2006, and an employee of Stowe previously pleaded guilty to lying to government investigators in the case.
‘Serious Environmental Crimes’
“In the face of all the political will and economic investment to restore the Puget Sound, this rogue developer knowingly, and repeatedly, chose profit over protection,” said Tyler Amon, acting Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, which investigated the case.
“For more than three years, Mr. Stowe and his construction company ignored the law, devastated salmon habitat and created nightmarish conditions for area drivers. This plea serves as notice to our regional developers ... these are serious environmental crimes that will be vigorously pursued.”
Under the terms of the plea agreement announced Thursday (April 12), Stowe and his company will pay $650,000 in criminal fines and make a $100,000 payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for environmental projects targeting resources impacted by the illegal discharges.
Stowe could be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Both he and his company will be subject to a court-imposed storm water compliance plan for all current and future development sites.
2 Major Landslides
In their plea agreements, the company and Stowe admitted knowingly violating the Construction General Storm Water Permit for a project known as the Rainier Park of Industry, on West Valley Highway in Sumner, WA. The site includes 51.4 acres of disturbed soil on a steep slope.
A drainage channel across the street from the front of the project runs to a salmon-bearing channel known as the Milwaukee ditch. Water from the channel eventually empties to the White River.
Uncontrolled runoff from the site contributed to two major landslides that closed the highway in the winter of 2011, authorities said.
Years of Violations
According to case records, the Construction Storm Water General Permit issued to Stowe for the site in 2006 required his company to develop and implement a plan to prevent runoff, which is considered one of the biggest threats to the health of Puget Sound.
Runoff from developed sites and construction projects dumps a significant amount of pollutants into the wetlands, streams, and rivers that comprise watersheds feeding into Puget Sound, authorities say.
Washington Department of Ecology inspectors visited the Stowe site numerous times and provided technical assistance between 2007 and 2011 to help the project’s managers understand and correct their stormwater permit violations, but multiple violations persisted, officials said.
State and federal regulators issued several administrative compliance orders over the years to try to force Stowe and his company to comply. In 2009, the company was fined $36,000 for runoff violations on the project.
“Ecology’s considerable interactions with Mr. Stowe’s projects suggest he is well aware of the requirements of his construction stormwater permit,” Kelly Susewind, Ecology’s water quality program manager, said at the time. “Penalties are a last resort for us, but we feel this one is necessary to bring about positive change at the site.”
In the new plea agreement, Stowe and his company admit to failing to install adequate improvements and practices between 2007 and 2011, leading to significant discharges of pollutants into wetlands and streams.
In December 2011, Stowe employee Timothy Barger pleaded guilty to making false statements to government officials. Barger admitted to falsely representing that site improvements and practices had been adequately installed and maintained at the site. Barger is scheduled for sentencing in September.