Caltrans may be fined $50K for water violations | SierraSun.com

Caltrans may be fined $50K for water violations

Erich Sommer, Sierra Sun

The California Department of Transportation is facing possible fines of up to $50,000 for a series of water quality violations that resulted from construction activities on Interstate 80 this summer between Truckee and Floriston.

Outlined in four complaints, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is proposing $10,000 fines for five separate water quality violations that resulted from storm runoff from uncovered stockpiles of soil and other unauthorized discharges of turbid water into the Truckee River.

“[Ten thousand dollars] is the maximum penalty we can issue,” said Eric Taxer, a water quality specialist with LRWQCB.

According to Taxer, all of the violations occurred between July 10 and Sept. 19 on the Interstate 80 Rehabilitation Boca/Floriston project.

But while LRWQCB is holding Caltrans responsible, the violations resulted from work performed by the prime contractor and subcontractors, said Caltrans officials.

“The majority (of violations) are from subcontractors,” said Caltrans Engineer Kirk Carrington.

Carrington declined to name the companies.

Granite Construction is the prime contractor.

Carrington did say he considered some of the violations insignificant, including one that resulted from workers washing off drilling equipment over the river.

“It was very minor. We are talking about a couple of gallons,” Carrington said. “But we are required to report everything.”

Others, like the runoff from uncovered stockpiles of soils that occurred after storms, caused more significant amounts of turbid and polluted water.

“We got over 3 inches of rain from one of the storms,” Carrington said.

Caltrans reported all of the violations to LRWQCB.

A two-day public hearing will be held starting Jan. 9 to determine if the fines will be upheld, dismissed or reduced.

Taxer said that while the violations may have resulted from the actions of private contractors, his agency holds Caltrans responsible.

“We have a permit with Caltrans, and any enforcement action we take is with Caltrans,” he said. “The purpose of the penalty is to act as a deterrent. And we want to create a level playing field for everybody else … and any enforcement action taken should be taken irrespective of whether it’s a public agency or a private concern.”

But Caltrans will likely pass any fines levied against them on to Granite Construction. Carrington said Granite Construction also has the right to pass on any fines to subcontractors, if they are responsible for the water quality violations.