SANDPOINT – The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating whether the Idaho Transportation Department has done unauthorized work on the Sand Creek Byway in North Idaho.
A site inspection was sparked by concerns about storm water pollution resulting from work recently done on the byway, and the EPA is investigating whether the transportation department first obtained necessary waivers from the EPA to do the work.
In an e-mail sent on Thursday, the EPA told the transportation department that a waiver was still pending for work the department had already completed that involved removing vegetation.
Barbara Babic, spokeswoman for the department’s District 1, said the EPA has taken no formal action against the state or the bypass contractor.
She said the e-mail from the EPA to the agency was a “staff-to-staff” communication.
“Their compliance status is under review and we don’t know the outcome of that review yet,” said Kristine Karlson, a compliance and enforcement official with the EPA in Seattle.
The possible violation involves a 2006 consent decree implemented by a federal judge in an EPA lawsuit against the Idaho Transportation Department stemming from highway work that dumped tons of sediment into Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Mica Bay.
The decree prohibits ITD workers from doing ground-disturbing activities between October and April unless it obtains waivers from the EPA.
The North Idaho Community Action Network has been fighting the byway.
“In knowingly violating a court-ordered consent decree, ITD has again demonstrated its ongoing disregard for legal requirements that exist to prevent damage to the public’s waterways and water quality,” NICAN executive director Liz Sedler said in a statement.
The byway is designed to route U.S. 95 out of downtown Sandpoint by building a bridge across Sand Creek and a three-lane highway. It is part of a series of huge construction projects in North Idaho’s lake country that are designed to improve traffic safety in the tourist region.
If the EPA finds the transportation department has violated the consent decree, the department could face fines of $1,500 for each day the decree was violated.