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California company fined for illegal dumping in federally protected wetlands

Humboldt County contractor Dennis Wendt of Wendt Construction resolved a federal lawsuit with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice following the construction company’s unpermitted dumping of the equivalent of 200 large dump truck loads of material into federally protected wetlands crucial to neighboring salmon populations.

The wetlands are associated with Strongs Creek, which flows approximately 1.3 miles west to the Eel River, a priority resource for maintaining cold, freshwater habitat for salmon and steelhead. The Lower Eel River is considered impaired under the Clean Water Act due to excessive sediment loads, low dissolved oxygen and high temperatures that exceed water quality standards.

The illegal fill activities took place between 2005 and 2008 at two adjacent development sites, the Strongs Creek Plaza Site and the East Littlefield Property and impacted a total of 4.18 acres of wetlands. Wendt Construction will pay a $170,000 penalty for dumping fill material into wetlands connected to Strongs Creek, a tributary to the Eel River located in the City of Fortuna.

As part of the settlement, the company will undertake a multi-year project to restore the damaged wetlands, including the creation of vegetated pond that will support wildlife while filtering water and recharging the groundwater aquifer. Restoration will allow the creek to perform the important ecological functions of retaining soil and nutrients, attenuating floodwaters, and providing movement corridors for wildlife and habitat for the Northern red-legged frog, which is a threatened species in California.

The proposed consent decree for the settlement, lodged with the federal district court, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.