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Prescott Real Estate Developers Agree to Pay Penalties for Their Failure to Obtain Stormwater Permit Coverage, Implement Erosion Control at the Project Site and Comply With Archaeological Protection Laws

 

ELLSWORTH - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today announced that his office has resolved a civil environmental prosecution it brought against Holst Excavating, Inc., a Prescott, Wisconsin company, and its owners and operators, William Holst and Nancy Beeler.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice to prosecute them for violating state stormwater permitting and erosion control laws in the course of their construction of a real estate development project known as the "Diamond Bluff Addition," located in the Town of Diamond Bluff, in Pierce County, about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities.  The full project contemplates the development of approximately twenty-eight single-family home sites on a thirty-nine acre parcel of land near the Mississippi River.

 

Under state law, Van Hollen said, owners of construction sites where an acre or more of land will be disturbed must apply to the DNR and obtain coverage under a water pollution control permit regulating storm water runoff before they may begin construction.  Under other state laws, before DNR can grant such a stormwater permit, it must consider whether a proposed project will affect any "historic properties," including archaeological sites, and if so DNR may deny or impose conditions on the permit to minimize any adverse effects on the historic property.  Here, after Holst applied for stormwater permit coverage in early 2006, the DNR reviewed the available archaeological and historical information and found indications that a number of archaeological sites were present on the property.  For that reason the DNR repeatedly asked Holst to contact the Wisconsin Historical Society for more detailed information about how he might be able to proceed with the project before DNR could decide whether to issue Holst a stormwater permit. 

 

In the fall of 2007, without first advising the DNR, without conducting an archaeological investigation or getting clearance from the Wisconsin Historical Society, and without obtaining stormwater permit coverage, the defendants proceeded to construct roadways and drainage ditches for the first of the three planned phases of development for Diamond Ridge.  After DNR's discovery of these unpermitted construction activities, William Holst told the DNR that he got tired of waiting for the various government approvals and went ahead without them.  Although available archeological information indicates the presence of burial mounds in the vicinity, a subsequent investigation indicated that none were damaged during this first unlawful phase of construction. 

 

The violations charged in the civil case were that:

 

  • During October 2007, the defendants disturbed approximately 2.04 acres of land in the course of constructing some 900 feet of roadways, cul-de-sacs and ditches, all without the required stormwater permit.
  • From October 2, 2007, until at least April 11, 2008, the defendants failed to implement and maintain the required best management practices (BMPs) to minimize the possible discharge of eroding sediments from the disturbed lands.  Van Hollen noted that under state law the implementation of BMPs is required regardless of weather conditions, and for that reason it is as much a violation of law to fail to implement BMPs during drought conditions as it is during rainy weather.  In the spring of 2008, about five months after the ground was first disturbed, a DNR inspector observed that no erosion control BMPs were in place at this site:  there was no seeding, no mulching, no ditch checks installed and no silt fence in place. 

 

"The Wisconsin Department of Justice will continue to work with DNR to ensure that water quality and archaeological site protection laws are followed," said Van Hollen.  He added that the defendants, in this settlement agreement, have committed to returning the construction project to compliance with erosion control laws by completion of the permit process for the first phase of the development, to conduct all necessary archaeological investigations and obtain all required water pollution control permits before engaging in the construction of subsequent phases of the real estate project.  The defendants have also agreed to pay the State of Wisconsin attorney fees, penalties, surcharges and costs totaling $25,000.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Dosch represented the State.