U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reach a Settlement of Clean Water Act Violations By Florida Developer
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the Jacksonville District, submitted to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida a proposed consent decree that would resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act by condominium developers Lodge/Abbott Investments Associates LLC and Lodge/Abbott Associates LLC.
The Clean Water Act requires any person who plans to fill federally protected wetlands to receive a permit from the Corps. The defendants in this case did not obtain a permit from the Corps before they filled over an acre of high quality wetlands that abut and function in close proximity to the tidal waters of Wiggins Pass and the Cocohatchee River in Naples, Florida. The purpose of the fill was to create “Tower 200,” one of five towers comprising a high-end condominium development known as “Kalea Bay” in North Naples.
Under the proposed consent decree, the defendants are required to pay a $350,000 civil penalty. In addition, to offset the environmental impact of the alleged violations, the defendants have purchased approximately $54,000 in mitigation credits from a Corps-approved wetlands mitigation bank. The proposed decree also enjoins the defendants from filling any additional wetlands without first obtaining a permit or other clearance from the Corps.
“The coastal wetlands in this case are a stone’s throw from the Gulf of Mexico and Cocohatchee River,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resource Division. “Federal law requires Corps of Engineers approval before development projects like this can take place in these protected areas. We are pleased to reach this agreement that serves the public interest in enforcing the Clean Water Act.”
“When wetlands are filled in violation of the Clean Water Act, the loss is felt not only today, but by all generations to come,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “The substantial penalty obtained in this case sends a message to anyone who fails to abide by our nation’s environmental laws that they will be held accountable.”
“The district's enforcement staff, with DOJ assistance, is pleased to have reached an expedited resolution of this section 404 Clean Water Act violation,” said Jacksonville District Enforcement Chief Bobby Halbert for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Our regulatory enforcement program intends to continue working to deter unauthorized activities such as this, while continually maintaining the integrity of our Nation's aquatic and wetland resources.”
Compliance and enforcement are important components of the Corps’ regulatory program, as it assures that the public interest and environmental resources are protected. The Corps’ Jacksonville District has a routine compliance inspection program throughout Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Corps’ Jacksonville District Enforcement Section is often aided by state and federal agencies as well as groups and individuals who report suspected violations. To address violations, the Corps is authorized to prescribe corrective action, impose fines, and/or prescribe removal of the offending fill, work, or structure.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
For more information on the Jacksonville District and the Corps’ Regulatory program, visit: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory.