William R. “Rusty” Miller, a real estate developer from Fairhope, Ala., has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Jackson, Miss., for the unpermitted filling of wetlands near Bay St. Louis, Miss., in violation of the Clean Water Act, announced U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Gregory K. Davis and Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The indictment alleges that during 2007, Miller caused the excavation and filling of wetlands on a 1,710 acre parcel of undeveloped property in Hancock County, west of the intersection of Route 603 and Interstate 10. The indictment states that Miller was a part-owner of corporations that purchased and intended to develop the land. It alleges that in 2001 when Miller and his companies purchased the property, he was informed by a wetland expert that as much as 80 percent of the land was federally protected wetland connected by streams and bayous leading to the Gulf of Mexico and as such could not be developed without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Such permits typically require that developers protect and preserve other wetlands to compensate for those they are permitted to fill and destroy. In spite of additional notice he had received of the prohibition against filling and draining wetland without authorization, the indictment alleges that Miller hired an excavation contractor to trench, drain, and fill large portions of the property to lower the water table and thus to destroy the wetland that would otherwise be an impediment to commercial development.
The indictment charges that Miller knowingly ditched, drained and filled wetland at 10 locations on the Hancock County property without having obtained a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. It also charges him with the unauthorized discharge of silt, sand, vegetation, debris and other material into and from canals and ditches on the Hancock County property into tributaries of Bayou Marone, a tributary of the Jourdan River.
It is a felony under the Clean Water Act for any person knowingly to discharge pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit. Any person convicted of this offense is subject to imprisonment of up to three years and a penalty of not more than $250,000.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.