A Roundup of Recent News Items in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S.V.I.
Release Date: 11/30/2000
Hotel in La Parguera Latest to Be Penalized for Filling Wetlands
(#00216) San Juan, Puerto Rico – The Hotel Villa Parguera, Inc. has learned an important lesson: filling or disturbing even a very small portion of a wetland area without prior authorization can result in penalties. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reminding coastal property owners to make sure that they have permission before filling wetlands. The Hotel Villa Parguera is one of several entities in Puerto Rico that EPA has taken action against in recent years for wetlands violations. The hotel, located in the Municipality of Lajas, has paid a $5,500 penalty for filling a mangrove and tidal mud flat area to expand the grounds between its conference center and the water’s edge. This construction work required prior approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Permits to fill wetlands are evaluated by the Corps to determine if the fill is absolutely necessary to meet the project needs, whether impacts to the environment can and will be minimized, and whether unavoidable impacts will be compensated for in some way. In addition to assessing a penalty, EPA required that the fill be removed and the shoreline restored to its pre-existing condition.
Coastal wetlands, particularly mangrove swamps, provide a multitude of benefits including storm protection and erosion control, food and habitat to numerous species of fish, birds, and other wildlife. EPA can assess penalties of up to $137,500 for illegally filling wetlands. The Agency assessed a $5,500 penalty for this violation because the fill area was very small and the hotel promptly cooperated with EPA and removed the fill.
For further information about the importance of wetlands, and the federal laws protecting them, consult EPA’s web page at http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/. Anyone planning construction in any wetlands, including along the coastal shoreline, in mangrove areas, salt flats, channels and bays, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, swamps and marshes, should contact the Corps of Engineers in advance. Information about applying for wetlands permits from the Corps of Engineers can be found at http://www.usace.army.mil/inet/functions/cw/cecwo/reg/. For more information, contact Mary Mears 212-637-3669.
EPA’s National Nitrate Enforcement Initiative to prompt companies that release nitrate compounds into water bodies to comply with Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) requirements, has ended a success. Thirty-eight facilities in EPA Region 2 took advantage of the initiative and disclosed that they failed to report permitted discharges of nitrate compounds under TRI, a program established under the Emergency Planning and Community-Right-To-Know Act to inform the public what chemicals industrial facilities release into the environment. Facilities have been required to report annual nitrate compound releases under TRI since 1994. EPA discovered, however, that 30 to 40% of the companies that use nitric acid in their processes and then treat wastewater containing the chemical on-site were not reporting their discharges of nitrate compounds into the environment. Forty targeted facilities in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico received letters from EPA this year offering a reduced penalty if they disclosed violations and in some cases, performed an internal audit. Most of the 38 facilities that disclosed violations have paid or will pay penalties of $1,000 or $5,000 depending on the size of the company – for a total of $100,000 region-wide – and have filed the necessary forms to EPA about their discharges. Ten of the 38 companies have facilities in other regions, and their penalties addressed nationwide violations. Now that the enforcement initiative is over, companies face significantly higher penalties for failing to report permitted nitrate compound discharges under the Toxic Release Inventory. EPA has set a maximum safe drinking water nitrate limit of 10 parts per million (ppm), aimed at protecting infants from methemoglobinemia, or Ablue baby syndrome." Exposure to very high amounts of nitrates can cause negative human health effects including depression of the cardiovascular, central nervous and respiratory systems. High nitrate levels can also damage streams, lakes and rivers by causing algal blooms, which can lead to oxygen depletion and fish kills. For more information, contact Nina Habib Spencer, 212-637-3670.