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Release Date: 11/18/1999
Contact Information: Carl Terry, EPA Media Relations, 404-562-8325; Ernie Seneca, DENR, 919-733-5083, ext. 208
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced today the start of a joint Wetlands Enforcement Initiative for unauthorized discharges associated with ditching and draining activities. The Initiative is a new effort to identify and target wetland sites that have been impacted as a result of violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA and DENR, using aerial photography, have identified numerous sites involving potential violations of the CWA resulting from these activities. A number of on-site inspections have been completed and additional inspections are planned.

In the past several months, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), EPA and DENR have conducted numerous inspections at sites where unauthorized ditching and draining activities have occurred. In many cases, the inspections have revealed that these activities have resulted in discharges without, or in violation of conditions of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for storm water discharges associated with construction activities. Section 402 of the CWA requires such permits for construction activities including clearing, grading, and excavation involving five or more acres, including sites which are part of a larger plan of development or sale. Additionally, many sites have had violations of Section 404 of the CWA, which regulates the unauthorized discharge of dredged or fill material in a wetland.

EPA already has taken formal enforcement actions under the CWA for unauthorized discharges at two sites resulting from the ditching and draining of wetlands, and DENR has taken several actions against violators of federal and State requirements. In addition to penalties, EPA is pursuing the restoration of the ditches in all cases where violations of Sections 402 and 404 occurred. Potentially, violations of the CWA can result in judicial action with penalties up to $27,500 per day for each violation.

EPA and DENR have implemented a Self-Audit/Self-Disclosure Policy which may be applicable to many sites. The Self-Audit/Self-Disclosure process may be used to identify and report violations and deficiencies associated with the ditching and draining of wetlands for activities other than those exempt under the CWA. The primary goal is to obtain water quality improvements in watersheds and to restore impacted wetlands as soon as possible. The Policy will provide owners/operators the opportunity to evaluate their sites prior to EPA and/or DENR on-site inspections. Persons interested in using the Policy should notify EPA/DENR no later than December 8, 1999. Evaluations should be completed within 30 days of notification.

All interested persons are encouraged to conduct voluntary self-evaluations in accordance with accepted procedures and to disclose any violations and deficiencies in accordance with the policy. If the self-evaluations do not reveal any violations and/or deficiencies, no compliance actions will be taken if the procedures were conducted properly. If violations/deficiencies are revealed, measures must be taken to achieve compliance with the CWA. Typically, these violations require site restoration.

Federal and State policy allow EPA and DENR to offer certain incentives to owners/operators who identify and correct violations. They include:

    • a significant reduction in the amount of a penalty that is normally sought under traditional enforcement (as much as 100%);
    • flexible schedules for correcting identified violations and deficiencies (includes longer schedules when appropriate and would justify reduction of the financial impact upon a person's operations; and
    • flexible enforcement agreement with remedial activities that are less prescriptive and more goal oriented.
Owners/operators who believe their activities may have resulted in violations of the CWA and are interested in using the Self-Audit/Self-Disclosure Policy should contact EPA in writing no later than December 8, 1999 at The Atlanta Federal Center, 61 Forsyth Street, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30303. Additional information may be obtained by contacting J. Scott Gordon, 404-562-9741 or Tom Welborn, 404-562-9354 at EPA or John Dorney, 919-733-9646, at DENR.