Companies owned by billionaire and gubernatorial candidate James C. Justice II will pay $220,000 in a deal with federal and state regulators to resolve allegations that the firms illegally built 20 dams on a Monroe County hunting and fishing preserve without first obtaining required Clean Water Act permits, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday.
The deal with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection also requires Justice’s companies to complete a restoration project to repair damage done to Turkey Creek as a result of the dam construction, according to the court filing.
Details about the proposed consent decree were filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston by lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, representing EPA in the matter. The consent decree needs court approval and must be subject to public comment.
A civil complaint, filed along with the consent decree named James C. Justice Companies, High Mountain Living, and Justice himself as defendants in the case. In a press release, EPA said that High Mountain Living settled with the agency and will pay a separate $125,000 penalty.
Half of the fines from the settlement go to the federal government and half to DEP.
Kelley Gillenwater, spokeswoman for the state agency, referred questions about the case to EPA.
The complaint alleged that the defendants own, operate and constructed 20 dams located along a span of about 1.5 miles of Turkey Creek and an unnamed tributary of Turkey Creek near McGlone in Monroe County, where Justice developed Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve.
According to the complaint, the defendants or persons acting on their behalf constructed the impoundments starting in 2011, using construction equipment in work that discharged dirt, rock and sand into Turkey Creek and the unnamed tributary.
The complaint alleges that the construction work was done without first obtaining a Clean Water Act “dredge-and-fill permit” from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as required by federal law. It also alleges that the work discharged pollutants into the streams without authorization from DEP and in violation of state water pollution law.
EPA said that the construction of earthen, cement and stone dams on Turkey Creek, a natural trout stream, “reduced water quality, changed water flow, reshaped the stream, disrupted fish passage, and caused sediment buildup.”
“A Clean Water Act permit is required for activities that involve the discharge of dredged or fill material into wetlands and other waterways,” the EPA said in its press release. “The permits are required so the environmental, recreational, and economic functions of the waterbodies are protected — including flood control, water filtration, and wildlife habitat.”
The consent decree said, “The plaintiffs and the Justice defendants agree that settlement of this case is in the public interest, that settlement of this matter will avoid the costs and uncertainties of litigation, and that entry of this consent decree is the most appropriate means of resolving the claims against the Justice defendants in this case.” It also stated that the defendants “deny any liability for the claims set forth in the complaint.”
In a prepared statement, Justice’s company said the dams were build as part of a “habitat enhancement” effort when “very dry falls” had reduced flow in Turkey Creek, which the company said had an average depth of about a foot.
“The approximate two to three foot high structures helped pool a little water and put oxygen in the water which have been extremely beneficial,” the company said. “We were forced into a settlement that will be a major detriment to the beautiful small stream.”
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