By Kim Ferraro
This autumn, the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation (LEAF) of Indiana obtained a $100,000 settlement of a lawsuit against developers for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act that harmed Salt Creek in Porter County, Indiana.
In 2004, developers of a residential subdivision in Valparaiso, clear-cut all vegetation from 14 acres of natural, forested property to build singlefamily homes and condos. Over the four-years of construction, the developers failed to institute and maintain even minimal soil erosion and stormwater control measures at the site which caused more than 8,000 tons of soil and dirty runoff to enter a tributary of Salt Creek. The polluted runoff degraded the watershed, and damaged adjacent property owned by LEAF’s clients. Consequently, in 2007, LEAF filed a lawsuit against the developers.
The Clean Water Act requires states to regulate runoff from construction sites of one-acre or more. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), is charged with implementing this law in Indiana through a state regulation known as “Rule 5.” Unfortunately, enforcement of the law is variable, leaving developers with the impression that the regulation is merely a suggestion for adopting “Best Management Practices” at their construction sites. That misguided view changed when LEAF won their recent lawsuit.
“The case sets positive precedent in Indiana that sends a message to Indian Department of Environmental Management and developers alike that Rule 5 is more than a lofty goal—it is the law—and LEAF will hold them accountable if they fail to follow it.”
The settlement will be used to remediate a large downstream wetland on the neighbor’s property. In addition, the developers agreed to implement necessary erosion/sediment for future construction at the site.
In December 2011, LEAF merged with the Hoosier Environmental Council. To learn more about their programs visit www.hecweb.org.