ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Department of Transportation and a Tennessee construction company have agreed to pay one of the largest fines in the history of the federal Clean Water Act for possible violations during highway expansion projects, federal officials said Monday.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that Wright Brothers Construction Co. of Charleston, Tenn., and Georgia’s transportation department have agreed to pay $1.5 million in penalties and spend more than $1.3 million to resolve environmental issues. Federal officials say the state allowed the company to dump excess soil and rock into seven primary trout streams in northeast Georgia between 2004 and 2007, which may have reduced the water quality and hurt trout populations downstream.
“The citizens of Rabun County deserve to have our tributaries and streams kept free of unauthorized fill material and similar pollutants,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “This significant monetary agreement underscores the commitment of this office and the Justice Department to our water supply, its life sources and the environment.”
Transportation department spokesman David Spear said the state accepted the settlement but disputes that it violated federal law during the two projects. He said the settlement stems from an $11.4 million project to widen two miles of U.S. Highway 76 between Clayton and Lake Burton and the other was a $65 million project to expand 10 miles of U.S. Highway 441.
“We chose to settle because this process has been ongoing for several years,” said Spear. “It makes no practical sense to continue this matter. The cost of litigation is not a prudent use of taxpayer money.”
He declined further comment because the case is still officially pending litigation. The settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.
Officials with Wright Brothers said they would release a statement later Monday
Under the settlement, Wright Brothers and the state must together buy 16,920 mitigating credits — worth about $1.3 million — to offset the impact of the road project on the seven streams. Wright Brothers must also remove piping from stream beds and restore the banks of 150 feet of stream channel impacted by the construction projects.
Federal officials say all of the streams that were filled by Wright Brothers are tributaries of either Lake Burton or Tallulah Falls Lake in northeast Georgia.