Four of the nation’s largest homebuilders, including one with a major residential development in Hall County, have agreed to pay $4.3 million in fines for failing to control runoff at construction sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia.
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced the agreement involving Centex Corp. of Dallas, KB Homes of Los Angeles, Pulte Homes of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and M.D.C. Holdings of Denver. The companies also agreed to take steps above what is required by law to keep 1.2 billion pounds of sediment out of the nation’s waterways.
Pulte, which owns Del Webb, is the developer of the Village at Deaton Creek, one of the Georgia locations cited for violations.
In addition, KB Homes’ Lanier Springs in Buford, just across the county line in Gwinnett County, is another of the 71 Georgia locations cited.
The Clean Water Act requires builders that disturb land to obtain permits and minimize runoff from rain. The companies named in the settlements allegedly failed to obtain permits before clearing land for subdivisions and to prevent silt and debris-laden runoff from leaving 2,202 construction sites from 2001 to 2005.Kevin McInturff, Hall County engineer, said that he was involved in discussions over erosion and sedimentation with other agencies during the major phase of construction at the Village
at Deaton Creek, but the builder usually responded and took corrective action.
"I don’t believe there were any citations from Hall County," McInturff said. "They (developer) were pretty responsive in getting problems fixed. We met with the developer, the state soil and water conservation commission, and the (state) EPD and went over some problems and they were pretty good about getting them fixed."
McInturff said the site was large and there was a great deal of land disturbance under way at the peak of development.
Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for the state Environmental Protection Division, said he was not aware of any citations against Deaton Creek from his agency.
Using state and federal guidelines, Hall County issues land disturbance permits that require protective measures, such as silt fences.
"The developer has a civil engineer hired and we look at the plans," said Pete Fletcher, who is plans review coordinator and planner for Hall County. "We make sure the requirements are met, make any corrections and give it back to them. They correct the plans, we approve them and they begin grading."
Fletcher said there are different types of silt fences, based on permeability.
"Some of them have a wire backing, others just posts, and it depends on the amount of slope and type of soils as to what type of fence you use," he said.
It’s the soil that can cause problems.
"Dirt can pollute. The bottom line is this: Whatever ends up on the ground at a construction site can be swept into the nearest waterway," said EPA Assistant Administrator Granta Nakayama.
Rain can carry contaminants such as dirt, stucco, paint and other materials from construction sites into storm drains and nearby waterways, where the silt can clog fish gills, smother fish eggs and block sunlight from plants, Nakayama said.
The settlements are part of a nationwide crackdown by the EPA to fine storm water violations at construction sites.
Centex Corp. agreed to pay the largest fine, at $1.485 million. KB Home was penalized $1.185 million. Pulte Homes Inc., along with a $877,000 fine, will complete a $608,000 project to reduce the amount of sediment entering a northern California stream. Federal prosecutors levied a $795,000 fine on M.D.C. Holdings Inc., the parent company of Richmond American Homes.
Seven states that joined in the settlements — Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah — will receive a portion of the penalties.
The agreements filed Wednesday must be approved by a federal court and undergo a 30-day public comment period before becoming final.
The four companies, in a joint statement, said that they were pleased with the agreements. Together, they build 100,000 homes every year, federal officials said.
"As leaders in the homebuilding industry, we share the government’s goal of protecting and preserving clean waterways," the statement said.
The National Association of Home Builders said the settlements with some of its larger members were a positive step that will be used as a model for other homebuilders.
"Clear rules — and understanding how to follow them — enable builders to help protect the environment while keeping housing affordable," said NAHB spokeswoman Donna Reichle.
In February, the agency fined Home Depot Inc. $1.3 million to resolve alleged violations at 30 construction sites for its big-box stores in 28 states.
But the largest settlement to date is with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which in May 2004 agreed to pay $3.1 million for violations at construction sites across the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.