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Hempfield to pay to fix damaged wetlands in lieu of penalties

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By Richard Gazarik
Monday, March 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Hempfield will not be fined for damaging protected wetlands in a park but will pay to remediate other areas in the township in lieu of a financial penalty, state and township officials said.

Workers last year damaged wetlands in Hempfield Park, in the northern end of the township, without conducting an environmental study or obtaining the proper permits.

The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Hempfield to correct the damage, but the township has not been able to fix the problem to state standards, agency spokesman John Poister said.

“We're not going to fine them for this,” Poister said. “We would rather see them fixing up the stream. Fines are not as big a deterrent as fixing the problem. We would rather see them improve the environmental part of the stream. A fine really wouldn't solve the problem.”

Other streams and wetlands in Hempfield need remediation, Poister said. The township will perform a certain amount of work equal to the dollar amount of the fine that the state would levy.

“It will take some work and cost them some money,” he said. “In the long run, that benefits them more than a fine.”

Solicitor Les Mlakar said the township will sign a consent order with the DEP, agreeing to perform the in-kind work after negotiating the type and amount of work that needs to be done.

“We will not be paying any cash,” Mlakar said.

Supervisors budgeted $150,000 this year for the remediation work and a possible state fine. The figure does not include more than $32,000 the township spent in 2012 on preliminary work to correct the environmental damage.

“We're going to be working with the Westmoreland Conservation District to work off any penalty,” said Doug Weimer, chairman of the board of supervisors.

An internal investigation determined that Mike Volpe, director of public works, was responsible for damaging protected wetlands in the park, according to a report by Mlakar. He said the township had abandoned plans to build a fishing pond and cleared debris from a stream running through the park that was causing periodic flooding.

The environmental harm was unintentional and resulted from confusion over whether Volpe needed a permit before starting the project, Mlakar said.

Workers dredged 200 feet of the stream, widening the banks and dumping the debris into the wetlands, which are a habitat for plant and aquatic life. They left a mound of dirt 200 feet long and 10 feet wide, according to a state inspection report.

In May, the DEP issued a violation against Hempfield because inspectors found that some stream debris was used to “fill and relocate portions of two stream channels in order to redirect water flow from the wetlands into the unnamed tributary of Brush Creek.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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