Mud piled up

Neighbors clean up on on Golden Acres Drive after a Sept. 7, 2013, thunderstorm in the Copper Ridge Subdivision. The state Department of Environmental Quality has fined the subdivision for violations of the Clean Water Act. Water and mud poured from the subdivision into Cove Creek, which drains to the Yellowstone River.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has recommended a fine of $50,682 to two West End subdivisions.

A DEQ enforcement letter states the discharge of silt and sediment into Cove Creek off land belonging to Copper Ridge and its sister development Reflections at Copper Ridge violated the Water Quality Act.

The action was initiated after a Sept. 9, 2013, inspection by a DEQ official.

“There was literally a delta of sediment and mud in Cove Creek,” said John Arrigo, an administrator for the DEQ Enforcement Division.

The subdivisions did not have proper sediment management in place and they did not have a proper permit to discharge any type of sediment, into Cove Ditch, he said.

The Billings area received more than 1.31 inches of rain, marble-sized hail and wind gusts nearing 75 mph on Sept. 7, 2013.

The water from the ditch flows into the Yellowstone River, making it a state waterway that falls under the jurisdiction of the DEQ.

The area did have a storm water discharge permit for the construction of roads on the property, but the permit did not include the area where homes were to be built. Arrigo said the whole development should have been permitted.

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Having to obtain a permit for lots sold off to individual buyers was news to Gary Oakland, the owner of Copper Ridge Development Corp. and Reflections at Copper Ridge LLC.

The developer has been building homes in Billings for more than 40 years and said he has never gotten a permit for a whole subdivision when he is going to sell off the lots individually to home builders.

“This was the first time in the history of our company that we’ve ever had a letter from DEQ charging us with anything,” he said.

What home builders do to stop runoff on their land should not be his responsibility, he said. “I have no legal authority as a developer to go on somebody’s private property and start modifying their property.”

After the investigation was initiated last year, Copper Ridge modified sales contracts to home buyers to contain more detailed language about their responsibilities. They also obtained proper discharge permitting and hired a firm to oversee the permit.

Even though he has taken all the necessary steps the DEQ has required, they still face a fine and that’s unfair, Oakland said.

“We did everything they wanted within the time frame that was specified.”

They have until the beginning of November to respond. Whether they will appeal to the board or just pay the fine, has not been decided, Oakland said. “We are in the process of considering our next move.”

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Chris Cioffi covers city news for The Billings Gazette in Montana.