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DOT, Bemidji contractor fined for stormwater work

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BEMIDJI – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced Thursday that it penalized the Minnesota Department of Transportation and a Bemidji-based contractor for construction stormwater violations along 18 highway miles in Koochiching County.

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MnDOT, the state agency responsible for operating and maintaining highways and transportation infrastructure, was the owner of the Trunk Highway 11 project.

Construction work included widening, realigning, and resurfacing the highway and adding bridges and culverts in the section between Frontier and Indus, Minn.

Northstar Materials Inc., doing business as Knife River Materials, was hired to perform general contractor duties for the project.

Combined, MnDOT and Northstar Materials will pay a $235,170 civil penalty, according to an MPCA news release. Corrective actions to remedy violations have been performed.

The MPCA release states:

After receiving a complaint about possible stormwater violations in September 2010, MPCA staff conducted five site inspections.

Agency inspectors determined the regulated parties had committed violations of state construction stormwater permits that regulates discharges to state waterways. The construction site is parallel to, and within one mile of, the Rainy River. It also has three streams and 70 unnamed drainages flowing through it.

The violations included discharging excessive amounts of construction-related sediment to surface waters, failing to have or implement a required stormwater pollution prevention plan and failing to implement appropriate erosion- and sediment-control best management practices across the site.

By not following the permit’s requirements, the excess sediments discharged to adjacent waters had adverse effects on water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.

MnDOT and Northstar Materials performed the corrective actions identified by the inspections and will pay a $235,170 civil penalty.

“Penalties and enforcement actions against state and local government entities are not that unusual,” said Jeff Connell, MPCA enforcement manager. “Considering the number of water utilities, highway projects and municipal airports around the state these facilities and projects get comparable environmental oversight to the private sector.”

When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations and how promptly the violations were reported to authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

Minnesota law requires governmental units and contractors to apply for a stormwater permit when construction projects disturb more than one acre of soil.

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