State DOT fined $171,000 for destroying wetlands - Tax dollars move from one agency to another

by Dean A. Radford
King County Journal Reporter

MAPLE VALLEY, WA-- The state Department of Transportation has been fined $171,000 for an illegal fill that destroyed about 1.3 acres of wetlands along Highway 18.

The fines were levied by the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology, which regulate work in wetlands and other sensitive areas.

The Ecology Department issued the larger of the two fines -- $121,000 -- against the transportation department and its prime contractor on the road-widening project, Atkinson Construction of Renton.

The state and the contractor still are negotiating how they will split the cost of the fine, said Lorena Eng, regional administrator for the Washington state Department of Transportation.

The Transportation Department also hasn't yet decided whether it will appeal the Ecology Department's fine, she said.

An Ecology Department spokesman said the amount of the fine is ``significant.''

Eng said she thinks the fine is one of the largest the Transportation Department has ever received. ``It's unfortunate to be the winner,'' she said.

The Ecology's Department's action also notes that Atkinson Construction continued to work in wetlands even after the state ordered all work stopped, said Larry Altose, an Ecology Department spokesman.

The money will go into an account that pays for restoration of wetlands, he said.

The Corps' fine of $50,000 is the result of an agreement negotiated by the federal agency and the Transportation Department. The state violated the federal permit when eight wetland areas were illegally filled or cleared on the project site between Maple Valley and the Issaquah-Hobart Road earlier this year.

As the permit holder, the state is solely responsible for paying that fine.

The Corps is requiring that the state repair the damaged wetlands and enhance wetlands elsewhere. Those plans will go to the Corps in about two months, Eng said.

The Corps also is requiring that the Transportation Department follow its own suggestions issued in a report this spring. The suggestions include remapping wetlands in the project area, hiring an environmental expert to monitor the work and working on a set of standards and practices for working in wetlands.

The $71.4 million project was on an accelerated schedule, which helped contribute to the problems, according to the state. Now, Eng said, it's likely the project will still finish before the initial completion date of fall 2006.

Dean Radford can be reached at dean.radford@ or 253-872-6719.



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