GOSHEN — The county stormwater board decided on a $6,000 penalty for the owners of a gravel pit who had accrued a hefty fine for months for violating water runoff rules.

The Elkhart County Stormwater Board levied the fine Monday against the owners of the property at 19370 U.S. 20, Bristol, after hearing that they had picked up five violations of the county construction site stormwater runoff control ordinance. The violations were related to not having a stormwater pollution prevention plan, which identifies potential sources of pollution that could affect the quality of stormwater coming off the site.

The violations amounted to a $2,000-a-day fine under the standards adopted by local MS4 communities, according to board attorney Steve Olsen. The board didn't hear an exact fine total, but estimated it could be anywhere from $120,000 to over $1 million.

"We're talking thousands and thousands of dollars," board member Suzie Weirick said. "It doesn't seem reasonable."

The penalty applied since at least June 20, when a stop-work order was issued, but the site has been in operation for close to two years, according to John Heiliger, county supervisor for the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System program.

He said aerial photos suggest it's been in operation since sometime between April and November 2017. He said they found the violations after someone complained to the county planning department in late May about the mess made by trucks leaving the site. 

Heiliger said he didn't believe the trucks could have transferred that much sediment onto U.S. 20, because of the distance they had to travel from the quarry to the road. He also said that all stormwater was confined to the site and it didn't seem to be having any environmental impact.

Olsen indicated that regardless of how the county was made aware of it, they had an ordinance violation to address.

No one representing the property owner attended a public hearing held at the meeting, though board members heard that they were given notice. 

The board discussed the need to keep the penalty realistic while still sending a signal to contractors that they were serious about enforcing runoff water quality laws. They also acknowledged that what they do could set a precedent for sites like this in the future.

They agreed on a $6,000 fine, payable within 30 days, after board member Phil Barker suggested $2,500 and Frank Lucchese suggested $10,000. The project will also be required to have a stormwater pollution prevention plan.

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