Four of the nation's largest homebuilders have agreed to pay $4.3 million in fines for failing to control runoff at construction sites in 34 states, including Utah, as well as the District of Columbia, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said Wednesday.
The four companies Centex Corp. of Dallas, KB Home of Los Angeles, Pulte Homes Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and MDC Holdings Inc. of Denver 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.
"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 find storm-water violations at construction sites.
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.
The states with the most sites covered by the settlements are California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.
Centex Corp. agreed to pay the largest fine, at $1.485 million. KB Home was penalized $1.185 million. Pulte Homes Inc., must pay an $877,000 fine, and 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 MDC 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.
In Utah, builders Richmond American and Centex Corp. paid a total of $35,000 in fines for violations at 32 sites. The complaint states that "there has proven to be a pattern of problems," said Laura Lockhart, assistant Utah attorney general. The EPA therefore has "assumed that there are violations at every site" where the companies have built homes in the state.
Builders are required to take out storm-water permits and develop a storm-water pollution prevention plan, said Utah Division of Water Quality assistant director John Whitehead. The plan determines which "best management practices" are appropriate for a given site.
"Best management practices vary from site to site, depending on slope and site configuration," Whitehead said. "Typically, you might see a silt fence, a berm, or you might see a settlement basin."
According to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., Richmond American paid $33,000 for violations at 31 sites in Davis, Salt Lake and Tooele counties, while Centex received a $2,000 fine for violations at The Oaks at Jordan Hills in West Jordan.
The EPA found specific violations at Richmond American's Hidden Springs development in Fruit Heights and cited the homebuilder for failing to obtain permit coverage, the court documents state.
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 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 was with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which in May 2004 agreed to pay $3.1 million for violations at construction sites across the country.