Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., a national homebuilder, late last month agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty to resolve alleged Clean Water Act (CWA) violations at 591 construction sites in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Hovnanian also must implement a company-wide program to improve compliance with stormwater runoff requirements at existing and future construction sites across the United States.
The federal government's complaint, filed simultaneously with the settlement agreement in federal court in Philadelphia, alleges a pattern of violations. Federal officials alleged the violations following a review of documentation submitted by the company as well as federal and state site inspections. Allegations include a failure to obtain permits until after construction had begun or failing to obtain them at all. At sites with permits, alleged violations included failure to prevent or minimize the discharge of pollutants such as silt and debris in stormwater runoff.
The settlement requires Hovnanian to develop improved pollution-prevention plans for each construction site, conduct additional site inspections, and promptly correct any problems detected. The company must properly train construction managers and contractors, and it will be required to designate trained staff for each site. Hovnanian also must implement a management and internal reporting system to improve oversight of on-the-ground operations and submit annual reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Harmful stormwater runoff from construction sites is something that is easily prevented," said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The construction industry needs to implement required controls or face the possibility of a federal lawsuit."
A portion of the settlement helps EPA's efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, North America's largest and most biologically diverse estuary. The bay and its tidal tributaries are threatened by pollution from various sources and are overburdened with nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that can be carried by stormwater, according to DOJ. A total of 161 Hovnanian construction sites in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia fall within the bay watershed and are covered by this settlement.
Over the next three years, Hovnanian must implement an improved stormwater management program that includes a three-tiered management oversight process, EPA spokesperson Dave Ryan told GBI. The company must conduct additional additional inspections beyond those required by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits at every site, including a pre-construction inspection, and conduct oversight inspections by the division-level stormwater compliance monitors. The consent decree provides for stipulated penalties for noncompliance.
The District of Columbia and the states of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia joined the settlement. The District of Columbia and each of the states will receive a portion of the $1 million penalty.The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
CWA requires that construction sites have controls in place to prevent pollution from being discharged with stormwater into nearby waterways. These controls include pollution prevention techniques such as silt fences, phased site grading, and sediment basins to prevent common construction contaminants from entering the nation's waterways.
Improving compliance at construction sites is one of EPA's national enforcement initiatives. EPA believes that construction projects have a high potential for environmental harm because they disturb large areas of land and significantly increase the potential for erosion. Without onsite pollution controls, sediment-laden runoff from construction sites can flow directly to the nearest waterway and degrade water quality. In addition, stormwater can pick up other pollutants, including concrete washout, paint, used oil, pesticides, solvents and other debris. Polluted runoff can harm or kill fish and wildlife, degrade aquatic habitat, and affect drinking water quality.
Compliance with the consent decree will reduce the amount of sediment discharged to U.S. waters by an estimated 366 million pounds per year, Ryan said.
When asked whether there will be an increased focus on inspecting more construction sites for stormwater-related violations, Ryan said, "Compliance with stormwater requirements to keep polluted storm water runoff out of our nation's waterbodies is an important focus for EPA, and both EPA and state agencies will continue to conduct inspections at construction sites to ensure CWA compliance. In addition, EPA is evaluating municipalities with separate stormwater sewer systems (MS4s) that are regulated under the CWA. One of the key responsibilities of MS4s under their CWA permits is to develop stormwater management programs that include stormwater compliance inspections and oversight of construction sites."
Similar consent decrees have been reached with multiple national and regional home building companies, including Pulte Homes, Centex Homes, KB Homes, and Richmond American Homes. These four companies and Hovnanian are in the top 10 homebuilder companies nationally in terms of the number of new homes built annually.