William R. “Rusty” Miller, a real estate developer from Fairhope, Ala., pleaded guilty today in federal district court in Gulfport, Miss., to 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 Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Miller, admitted to having 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 charging document to which the defendant pleaded guilty 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 acquired 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 to the Gulf of Mexico and as such could not be developed without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wetland 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, it is alleged that Miller hired excavation contractors 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.
In pleading guilty, defendant Miller has acknowledged that he knowingly ditched, drained and filled wetlands at 10 locations on the Hancock County property without having obtained a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“This conviction is the latest in a series of enforcement actions the Department of Justice has initiated to preserve the wetlands that protect the Gulf coast from storms and that nourish the Gulf’s fisheries and support its marine life,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Dreher. “Those who unlawfully destroy this valuable natural resource, either by pollution or by development, will face vigorous prosecution.”
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. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled before Chief District Court Judge Louis Guirola, Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi on March 17, 2014.