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Landowners to pay $35,000, restore wetlands in EPA suit

Release Date: 7/12/2004
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      Denver -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered two private landowners to pay a $35,000 civil penalty and to restore 120 acres of drained wetlands and an impacted waterway to Lake Herman.

      Mark and Dan Johnson of Madison, S.D., have agreed to pay the penalty in three annual installments, with interest. They will also remain subject to a 2002 EPA order to restore the wetlands and waterway to pre-impact conditions.

      EPA initiated enforcement action against Mark and Dan Johnson after the Johnsons dug a trench on December 31, 2001, which connected a large wetland area to a ditch they had previously built in the spring of 2000, causing the larger wetland area to drain.

      Because they had no permit and because the wetlands are tributary to waters of the United States -- eventually reaching the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers -- EPA found that the Johnsons' discharges of dredged material violated the Clean Water Act. EPA's goals in pursuing this action are to deter further CWA violations by the Johnsons and to assure the regulated community that those who violate the law do not benefit economically.

      "The impacts of these alleged violations to the community, and to the landowners, could have been avoided if the landowners had applied for the proper, required permits and consulted with the Corps prior to impacting waters of the U.S.," Assistant Regional Administrator for Enforcement Carol Rushin said.

      Wetlands provide important habitat for local and migratory birds and other wildlife, water storage and retention, and flood control. In addition to the environmental impacts, the Johnsons' activities flooded downstream properties, including a radio station's transmission tower.

      The permit requirement applies to all waters of the U.S., which includes lakes, rivers, streams and certain wetlands. Property owners, contractors or developers planning to do any work in any such waters in South Dakota should always contact the Army Corps of Engineers' regulatory office in Pierre, S.D., at (605) 224-8531.