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4 firms to pay fines in probe by EPA

KB Home is among builders paying a total of $4.3 million for alleged storm-water runoff violations.

June 12, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Four major home builders, including Los Angeles-based KB Home, have agreed to pay $4.3 million in fines to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act involving hundreds of construction sites nationwide, the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

The four separate settlements are the result of a federal investigation into storm-water management and compliance efforts between 2001 and 2004, according to the companies named in the complaints.

The greatest number of alleged violations occurred in California. Complaints also were filed this week against Pulte Homes of Bloomfield, Mich.; Centex Homes, based in Dallas; and Richmond American Homes, based in Denver.

The complaints allege that the companies violated storm-water runoff regulations at construction sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Alleged violations include failure to obtain a permit before construction and failure to prevent or minimize discharge of pollutants, such as silt and debris, in storm-water runoff.

The Clean Water Act requires construction sites to have controls, such as silt fences and sediment basins, to prevent contaminants from flowing into waterways.

Pollutants from concrete, lubricants, paint, pesticides and other debris can mix with storm water, and the runoff can harm or kill fish and wildlife as well as affect drinking water quality.

EPA officials said that addressing those threats has been a high priority for the agency's Pacific Southwest region.

"We had very large sites in Southern California and Arizona that are being developed, and they were contributing a large amount of sedimentation and erosion to our streams and coasts," said Alexis Strauss, director of the water division for the region.

Some of the civil penalty money will go to co-plaintiffs Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee and Utah.

KB Home agreed to pay about $1.2 million, Centex about $1.5 million, Pulte $877,000 and Richmond $795,000.

Pulte also opted to spend $608,000 more to restore damaged areas in the watershed in Mendocino County that are critical to salmon, steelhead trout and two endangered frog species, according to the EPA. California environmental authorities say that area has been severely affected by sediment runoff.

The companies are also required to develop improved pollution prevention plans and storm-water management training programs, increase site inspections and promptly correct errors, among other remedies.

Pulte began implementing a robust storm-water management program in June 2006. More than 2,500 employees, including about 300 from Southern California, have undergone a four-hour training session, said spokesman Mark Marymee.

"We have a greater degree of focus on proper storm-water management, and we're pleased with our progress," Marymee said.

The four companies are among the country's top 10 builders in terms of home purchases and revenue, accounting for more than 124,000 home closings in 2006. EPA officials said they decided to seek nationwide settlements, rather than tackle individual construction sites, because they felt it would have a larger effect on the construction industry.

"These are four of the larger home builders," said Amy Miller, team leader for storm-water enforcement with the EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "I think other home builders will take notice."

In February, the EPA reached a similar settlement with Home Depot, which was required to pay $1.3 million and establish a comprehensive storm-water compliance plan to prevent violations.

Strauss said storm-water violations remain a focus of the agency.

"We have been looking at ports, we've been looking at construction projects, we've been looking, to some extent, at gravel mines," she said.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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