John Rapanos to Pay for Wetlands Violation

John A. Rapanos and related defendants have agreed to pay a civil penalty and recreate approximately 100 acres of wetlands and buffer areas to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act at three sites in Midland and Bay counties, Michigan, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Dec. 29.

Rapanos has agreed to pay a $150,000 civil penalty and will spend an estimated $750,000 to mitigate for 54 acres of wetlands that were filled without authorization under the Clean Water Act. Rapanos has also agreed to preserve an additional 134 acres of wetlands that were unaffected by the unauthorized activity. Under the agreement, the preservation of these areas will be enforced via a conservation easement held by the state of Michigan.

"After litigating this case for a number of years, we are pleased to reach a settlement that so strongly benefits the environment and serves the public interest," said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"This longstanding case demonstrates that EPA continues to vigorously pursue violations of the Clean Water Act that adversely affect wetlands," said EPA Regional Administrator Lynn Buhl. "The settlement will benefit the environment in Bay County by preserving a substantial amount of wetlands that play a vital role in water quality, flood control, and fisheries."

The original enforcement action was filed against Rapanos in 1994 and the case drew national attention after the District Court ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequently sent back to the U.S. District Court for further proceedings. Rapanos challenged EPA's findings that the filled wetlands were under federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The litigation determined that Rapanos did fill wetlands under federal jurisdiction.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rapanos attempted to level three different parcels of land by uprooting vegetation and filling low spots with sand and dirt. He also dug an extensive network of ditches to dry out the sites, which resulted in excavated dirt being sidecast into wetlands. The parcels of land were intended to be developed for a shopping mall and residential homes.

There is a parallel criminal matter that is still pending and is not affected by the settlement under the agreement.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval. A copy of the proposed consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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