Wetlands damage leads to record fine for county homeowner

An Augusta County homeowner has been fined a record $145,000 by the State Water Control Board for damage incurred to five acres of protected wetlands stemming from activities undertaken during the construction of a $2.4 million mansion on Quarles Pond in Stuarts Draft.

The civil charge cites Arthur J. Fisher III, the owner of the Staunton-based Fisher Auto Parts, for excavating in wetlands without a permit during the construction of a 15,000–plus-square-foot house on the pond south of Cold Springs Road.

The excavation destroyed the ecological function of the wetlands at the pond, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, which investigated the incident and drafted the consent order that was approved at the State Water Control Board’s April 27 meeting.

“In some areas the whole ecological function was destroyed. Plants and animals were not able to survive,” DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden told the News Virginian for a story posted on its website Monday afternoon.

“Anytime you move soil in a wetland, you are potentially damaging it … moving soil, digging ditches, draining the wet areas. All that happened in this case,” Hayden told the paper.

A representative of Fisher had been informed in a September 2003 meeting with DEQ and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff discussing the building project that a Virginia Water Protection permit would be needed “prior to any construction activity being conducted on the property that would impact Quarles Pond,” according to a copy of the consent order signed by Fisher on Feb. 10, 2009.

In February and March 2006, staff from the National Forest Service conducting surveying work in the area noticed that excavation work had taken place at the site and reported the observation to the DEQ on March 20, 2006. The excavation work ceased immediately upon notice being sent by DEQ staff to the builder, according to the consent order.

Fisher complied thereafter with requests from the DEQ related to work to repair damage to the site, according to my review of the consent order. And a Sept. 4, 2008, report on the matter included the observation that “there had been significant natural regeneration of the plant communities within and around the fringe of Quarles Pond” as a result of that restoration work.

Under state law, Fisher could have been fined up to $32,500 per day per violation, which could have run into the millions of dollars based on the time frame of the violations in the case.

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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