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Feds fine top home company $1 million

EPA cites Hovnanian for 591 stormwater violations

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, Published 04/22/10

Hovnanian Enterprises must pay a $1 million fine and improve its stormwater controls at construction sites as a result of a consent decree signed this week with federal environmental officials.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged water pollution violations by the homebuilder at 591 construction sites, including several in Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties.

An EPA complaint, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, alleges that Hovnanian often did not get permits until after construction started or sometimes didn't get permits at all. At some sites that had permits, the builder failed to prevent dirty stormwater from running off the land.

The 591 sites are spread across 18 states and Washington, D.C., with 161 of them in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the land area that drains into the bay.

According to the consent decree, local sites included: the Carriages at Russett, Colonial Park, Crawfords Ridge, Eagle Pointe, Greenspring (Compass Pointe), The Paddocks, South River Colony, Southdown Shore, Four Seasons at St. Margarets, Monticello and Sloop Cove Landing in Anne Arundel County and Kent Island in Queen Anne's County.

Details of the individual alleged violations were unavailable yesterday.

Hovnanian and the EPA signed the consent decree on Tuesday to settle the alleged violations.

Doug Senichel, a spokesman at Hovnanian's New Jersey headquarters, said the company had no comment on the consent decree.

EPA officials, on the other hand, offered gushing statements about it.

"Restoring and preserving the Chesapeake Bay is one of EPA's top priorities, and preventing polluted stormwater from entering the bay watershed is vital to keep it healthy," Peter Silva, the EPA's top water official, said in a statement. "This enforcement action will help protect the bay by addressing stormwater pollution at its source."

Dirty stormwater runoff is the only pollution source in the Chesapeake Bay that is increasing, according to state and federal officials.

When it rains, stormwater rushes across rooftops, roads, parking lots and developed areas. The water picks up harmful sediment, nutrients, toxic substances and trash before ending up in streams and creeks that feed rivers and the bay.

Construction sites are a concern because of their large swaths of exposed dirt. Construction sites are required to limit stormwater runoff through methods such as black silt fencing.

Hovnanian must now also establish a comprehensive stormwater program, according to the decree.

Each construction site must have a stormwater compliance representative, and there will also be a national stormwater official for the company.

Site-specific stormwater control plans must also be developed before construction begins, and employees must be trained in stormwater management.

Hovnanian's $1 million fine will be split among the federal government and several states.

Maryland will receive $67,000 that will go into the Maryland Clean Water Fund, according to the decree.

Hovnanian - which does business under the name K. Hovnanian Homes - was founded in 1959 and is the sixth-largest homebuilder in America, according to a company fact sheet. In 2009, the company built 5,362 homes and took in $1.6 billion in revenue.

K. Hovnanian is the developer behind the controversial Four Seasons project on Kent Island. That project would include 1,350 homes on land north of Route 50 that borders the Chester River, Cox Creek and Macum Creek.

Environmental and zoning concerns about the Four Seasons project have led to disputes that have gone on for years and involved the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners, the Queen Anne's County Board of Appeals, the state Board of Public Works and the state courts.

(Revised April 2010)