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EPA says planning commissioner broke clean water law

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Juneau Planning Commissioner Jody Vick is accused of violating the federal Clean Water Act by filling tidelands near his Douglas home without federal permits.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a compliance order requiring Vick to restore the site.

''All we've told him is he needed a permit, doesn't have one, has to undo what he did, and has to go through the process like everyone else,'' said Chris Meade, an environmental scientist with the EPA office in Juneau.

Vick also failed to get a required city grading permit, according to city officials.

But Vick said he just was trying to stabilize a run-down bank of dirt and rock on Gastineau Channel and beautify an area along First Street for public use. He said he didn't realize he needed permits for the work.

''I would have bet my life that I didn't need a permit for what we were doing,'' Vick told the Juneau Empire.

Vick faces fines of up to $27,500 a day and administrative penalties of up to $11,000 a day counting from when the work was done in June and July, EPA officials said. Typically, penalties are reduced, Meade said. In setting penalties, the EPA considers the violation's seriousness, the economic benefit from the violation and the economic impact of a penalty on the violator.

Vick and neighbor Ammon C. McDole own a narrow strip of land between First Street and Gastineau Channel. The city placed rock along the bank in 1985 after a severe storm in late 1984 washed away part of the road.

Vick and McDole planned to stabilize the bank for about 400 feet, landscape their property between the road and the bank, and build stairs down the rock face to the beach -- all for public use.

''It improves our property,'' McDole said. ''It improves the neighborhood. It improves everybody's property.''

Vick said the bank was falling apart under the lash of storms. Water would flow between the rocks and pull out the fine soil, and the rocks themselves were pulled by waves onto the beach.

The plan was to temporarily remove the city's rock face, add fill to the bank, place fabric over it, replace the rocks and add larger rocks to the face, Vick said. Part of the work, all on Vick's property, was done in three days in late June and early July.

But the EPA compliance order said Vick needed a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to place fill below the high tide line, which in Juneau is designated at 20.8 feet above sea level.

The EPA said Vick also needed a Corps permit to place the rocks below the mean high water line, which in Gastineau Channel is 15.4 feet above sea level.

Vick said the rocks were only temporarily below that line and would have been moved back in place against the bank if authorities had allowed the work to continue.

Vick said he will comply with the EPA order and probably apply for the required Corps permits so the originally planned work can be done next summer. Because the Corps doesn't allow fill to be placed in wetlands unless something is being built, Vick said he may build two gazebos and a walkway for public use on the site.



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