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Home development company fined for wetlands violations

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D.R. Horton never obtained proper permitting before moving soil on designated wetland in Scappoose

A prominent housing developer is under investigation by the state Department of Environmental Quality and was recently fined by the Oregon Department of State Lands for its construction in a designated Scappoose wetland. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Equipment on the construction site of Dutch Canyon Estates in Scappoose preps a water-logged parcel Monday, March 13.

Officials say D.R. Horton, who is currently developing the third phase of Dutch Canyon Estates on Dutch Canyon Road in Scappoose, was fined $4,000 in a civil penalty from DSL.

Records show the developer skirted state laws by failing to get a removal and fill permit from the state agency prior to grading a roughly 10.5-acre property slated for 35 new homes within a wetland.

Last weekend, neighbors observed several hoses and a large drainage basin on the site, indicating a construction crew was draining large amounts of water from the site during the height of pre-season spring wildlife inhabitation.

D.R. Horton did obtain a stormwater permit from DEQ, but that didn't cover the full scope of development within a sensitive habitat.

DSL does not regulate water removal, but it does monitor large impacts to wetlands like soil removal. Removal or alteration of 50 or more cubic yards of material in areas designated as essential salmonid habitat or state scenic waterway requires a DSL permit.

Originally this project was going to avoid wetland impacts, so there was not a need for a permit.

"We do now have an enforcement case with this company, however, and it is close to being resolved," Julie Curtis, public information manager for DSL, explained Wednesday. "They dug a trench in the wetland, but they have since filled it in and will be replanting, so we don't have any further issues with this project."

Despite D.R. Horton's mitigation efforts, the company still paid a state fine for the violation.

As part of its mitigation agreement with the state, the national development company must submit a mitigation plan, followed by a post-construction report and an annual monitoring report by the end of the year for each year the monitoring is required.

On Wednesday, DEQ confirmed it had sent an investigator to the site to check for any violations of the company's stormwater permit.

Even before site preparation for the third phase of housing construction began, neighbors lamented the loss of the wetland habitat.

"They took the whole wetland out during the season when all of the wildlife is using it," one nearby homeowner, who asked not to be identified, said earlier this week. "I was just dumbfounded. It's absolutely inconsistent with their deal with the city."

A city engineer for Scappoose did not respond to a request for comment about the company's actions, but a city planner said the building and development department was "still trying to figure out what's going on," as of Wednesday.

The first phase of Dutch Canyon Estates was approved in 2007 and the third phase was later approved by the Scappoose Planning Commission in 2015. The housing development was planned in three phases covering about 30 acres of moderate density residential land in Scappoose.

Houses in the community have sold from $168,000 to $240,000, according to Houses.com, but an online sales coordinator for D.R. Horton indicated new homes are expected to sell for $300,000 to $350,000 or more, depending on the model of home.

The city's planning commission received several written comments from the public, with concerns over development in a designated wetland, prior to the tract housing being approved.

According to city documents, any activity within a wetland requires approval from DSL and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a wetland buffer area should be established, as well as soil and erosion control devices in many cases.

D.R. Horton could not provide a person who was authorized to speak on the matter to the press.