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EPA Fines Local Contractor for Destroying Wetlands Outside Rochester

Release Date: 02/21/2007
Contact Information: Michael Basile, (716) 551-4410, basile.michael@epa.gov

(New York, N.Y.) A local utility contractor working outside of Rochester, New York will be required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore wetlands it filled illegally, and pay a $5,000 penalty for the violation of federal law. Under the settlement with EPA, the former owner of Rochester Utility Contractors, Michael Maier, must restore the wetlands to their previous condition. Mr. Maier has removed the illegal fill as ordered. The case was referred to EPA by the Buffalo District office of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Filling in a wetland effectively destroys it,” said Alan J. Steinberg, Regional Administrator. “Many companies may think that no one will notice if a small wetland area is destroyed, but EPA and its partners do notice and we will not only penalize violators, but we will make them reverse the damage that they have done, often at a great financial expense.”

The affected area is approximately 0.4 acres of a cattail wetland and is part of the Black Creek watershed. Water from the wetlands drains to Black Creek, and from there to the Genesee River and Lake Ontario. Rochester Utility Contractors filled the wetland with soil from other sites and then used the area to store equipment and materials beginning in the spring of 1994 and continuing periodically through December 2004. This destroyed the area of wetlands and disrupted the local ecosystem.

Wetlands, particularly freshwater marsh wetlands, purify water and keep our environment clean in several ways. Nutrients that are dissolved in water, such as nitrates and phosphates, are taken up by wetland plant roots and incorporated as plant tissue. These compounds, which are contained in animal wastes, fertilizers and the like, are found both in agricultural runoff and urban runoff. Wetlands, by removing such components from runoff, purify the water that ultimately enters downstream waters, and thus work to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems. Freshwater wetlands also maintain water quality by removing sediments and waterborne toxic materials. Incoming sediments are trapped by groups of root complexes in wetland plants, and organic contaminants and heavy metals absorb and bind with the sediment/root complexes, protecting aquatic life. Finally, freshwater wetlands provide flood control by naturally storing excess rainwater that has run off from upland areas, including developed properties, and gradually releasing it to adjacent creeks and rivers.

The loss of degradation of wetlands can lead to serious consequences, such as extinctions and the decline in productivity of coastal fisheries. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers share enforcement authority for the federal wetlands protection laws. Anyone planning construction activities in wetlands or streams must contact the Corps well in advance to obtain a permit.

For more information on wetlands: http://www.epa.gov/region02/water/wetlands

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