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Release Date: 10/25/1999
Contact Information: Mike Wylie, EPA Wetlands Section at (404) 562-9409 Wesley Lambert, EPA Media Relations (404) 562-8316

HPS&R, Inc., Jacksonville, North Carolina, has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $85,000 in settlement of a civil action alleging the unauthorized discharge of fill material during ditch excavation activities into approximately 5.75 acres of wetlands. In addition to direct impacts from the excavation of ditches and sidecast of ditch spoil, approximately 325 acres of wetlands were temporarily drained by the activity. The project was not authorized under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The wetland area is located in northwest Jacksonville, Onslow County, North Carolina. In addition to the penalty, HPS&R, Inc. has restored the impacted wetlands area and will donate 100 acres of wetlands on the site to the North Carolina Wetlands Restoration Program. This action, combined with the cash penalty makes the settlement agreement worth approximately $185,000.

The settlement resulted from an action brought by the EPA Region 4 Water Management Division office in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., under a provision of the Clean Water Act which authorizes EPA to assess civil penalties for violations of the Act. For serious violations such as the one described, EPA may refer cases to the U.S. Department of Justice where large civil penalties and criminal sanctions can be sought in the United States District Courts.

The Jacksonville area, and the North Carolina coast in general, is undergoing considerable growth, and it is critical to the environmental health of the region that filling and dredging of wetlands be regulated. Wetlands are among the most environmentally beneficial areas in the nation. They include marshes, swamps, bogs and similar areas that have developed between open water and dry land. Wetlands harbor unique soils and plants that provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife, water purification, erosion control, flood control during major storms, and recreation. Although wetland areas are found throughout the Southeast, they are being destroyed rapidly. Each year, thousands of acres of wetlands are destroyed in the United States.

EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) are working together to implement Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which requires that a permit be obtained before placing fill in waters of the United States or wetland areas. EPA strongly encourages all property owners desiring to excavate or fill wetlands or waters of the United States to contact the COE prior to beginning work. The COE office which administers the Section 404 permit program in North Carolina is located in Wilmington, North Carolina, and can be contacted at (910) 251-4511 or by mail at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division, P.O. Box 1890, Wilmington, NC 28402-1890.