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Sandpoint byway erosion control draws EPA’s scrutiny, complaint

Fri., Oct. 16, 2009

The Idaho Transportation Department is again in trouble with the federal regulators over faulty erosion controls at a U.S. Highway 95 construction project.

An inspector with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visited the Sandpoint Byway Project in January, after receiving complaints about the work. Kristine Karlson said she found numerous storm water violations at the byway project, a $95 million detour around Sandpoint’s historic downtown. The 2.1-mile byway crosses Sand Creek and follows the creek’s eastern edge.

The EPA announced Thursday that it had filed a complaint against the Idaho Transportation Department and its main contractor, Parsons RCI Inc. of Sumner, Wash., seeking $65,000 in fines.

In 2006, the ITD and another contractor agreed to pay $895,000 in fines over a Highway 95 improvement project that sent torrents of mud into Mica Creek and fouled a bay in Lake Coeur d’Alene. Downstream homeowners filed a separate lawsuit over clogged water systems and docks mired in mud. As part of the settlement, ITD officials agreed to additional training in storm water management.

ITD spokeswoman Barbara Babic said that after the January inspection, her agency and the contractor immediately corrected the problems at the Sandpoint byway construction site.

“Since then, we’ve received many compliments from the public about what a clean and well-run operation it is,” she said.

Babic characterized problems at the site as mostly paperwork related. “At no time were there any issues or immediate concerns regarding imminent impacts to the water quality within Sand Creek or (Lake Pend Oreille),” department officials said in a statement.

But Karlson said she was concerned about the amount of bare ground without erosion controls. The potential existed for the same type of mud flows in the earlier project.

“My first concern was the creek,” said Karlson, a storm water enforcement coordinator. “The soils in the northern counties are pretty unstable, as we found out in the Mica Bay Project.”

Ed Kowalski, EPA’s director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle, chastised the ITD for repeated storm water problems.

“Over the past five years, ITD and its contractors have paid over $1 million in penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act,” he said in a statement. “Their environmental management program needs to be upgraded so they can avoid future penalties.”

The ITD and Parsons RCI have 30 days to respond to the complaint.



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