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EPA cites Fallon County for unauthorized discharges, wetlands destruction at Baker Lake

Release Date: 07/20/2006
Contact Information: Wendy Silver, silver.wendy@epa.gov, 303.312.6637; Monica Heimdal, heimdal.monica@epa.gov, 303.312.6359; Richard Mylott, mylott.richard@epa.gov, 303.312.6654

{Denver, Colo. - July 26, 2006} The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an administrative compliance order to Fallon County, Mont., for violations of the Clean Water Act. The order cites discharges of dredged and fill material to Baker Lake, Upper Baker Lake, and surrounding wetlands, in violation of CWA section 301(a), which prohibits the discharge of a pollutant unless authorized by a permit. The order includes compliance measures to correct the environmental damage.


      "The Clean Water Act requires that dredge and fill activities be permitted in order to protect wetlands and the quality of our nation's waters," said EPA's assistant regional administrator Carol Rushin. "EPA will pursue those who engage in unauthorized projects to ensure compliance with the law."
The discharges of dredged and fill material began in or about January 2005 when Fallon County (or persons acting on its behalf) performed construction work on Baker Lake. These activities included the excavation of approximately 11,000 feet of lakeshore, including wetland vegetation, and stockpiling of the excavated material below the lake’s ordinary high water mark. Other impacts included the placement of fill material below the ordinary high water mark in certain places and in the lake bed in front of a private residence. Additional work was done later in the year, including activities at Upper Baker Lake. Some of these activities, including installation of a boat ramp, occurred after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered the County (on February 17, 2005) to cease and desist from any additional unauthorized discharges.

These unauthorized activities resulted in the elimination of more than 8.6 acres of wetlands surrounding Baker Lake and additional impacts at Upper Baker Lake. Both lakes provide habitat for waterfowl, songbirds, and aquatic wildlife and play an important role in water quality improvement, groundwater recharge, ecology education, recreation and aesthetics.

Fallon County allegedly discharged dredged and fill material into waters of the U.S. without a permit, which is required by section 404 of the Clean Water Act. "Dredged material” means material that is excavated or dredged from waters of the U.S. “Fill material” means any material used for the primary purpose of replacing an aquatic area with dry land or changing the bottom elevation of a water body. Dredged and fill material are pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Water Act and result in adverse impacts to the waters into which they are discharged. Placement of dredged or fill material into waters can have adverse impacts on fish and wildlife habitat and can adversely impact the plants or insects they rely on as food sources.

A permit from the Army Corps of Engineers is required before performing any work that results in discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S., which include rivers, lakes, streams, and certain wetlands. The impacts of these alleged violations could have been avoided if Fallon County had consulted with the Corps prior to commencing its activities.

The order requires Fallon County to remove all dredged and fill material that was discharged as a result of the violations and restore the impacted areas of Baker Lake, Upper Baker Lake and their wetlands to pre-impact conditions and grade. Prior to doing the work, Fallon County must submit for EPA’s approval a restoration plan that details how the removal and restoration will be accomplished.

Respondents who fail to respond to EPA orders are subject to additional enforcement actions, including civil enforcement lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in Federal Court.