A construction company developing an 80-lot subdivision in St. Helens was fined more than $112,000 for environmental violations made in February. In response, the company has filed an appeal arguing circumstances were out of its control.
KCL Inc., which is registered to Ken Leahy, who also operates Ken Leahy Construction Inc., was fined by the state Department of Environmental Quality on three separate violations in late March stemming from a Feb. 22 site inspection.
The DEQ complaint outlines several violations, including discharging sediment into a wetland, placing waste in a location where it is likely to enter waters of the state, and violating a condition of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit associated with development of Gray Stone Estates.
Gray Stone Estates is a proposed housing development of 78-lots for single-family dwelling units, along with two commercial lots, approved by the St. Helens Planning Commission in September. )Documents pertaining to the development can be found here with maps on page 27.)
Leahy said he is planning to appeal the violations, however. Several of the violations related to sediment runoff and discharge occurred in the middle of February, when Columbia County was hit by a torrential downpour of rain, called an atmospheric river, that caused flooding throughout the county county, Leahy explained.
"I don't know how to start this conversation other than to say DEQ has gotten completely out of hand," Leahy said by phone Wednesday.
He explained that DEQ officials visited the construction site shortly after the region was hit by the atmospheric river, which caused severe flooding throughout the county, including washing out a 6-foot culvert on Gable Road, which is only half a mile from the worksite.
"We're just a victim of nature," Leahy said. "And what can you do when you get that much rain in a short period of time?" Leahy said.
Leahy said the construction site had proper erosion controls in place prior to the storm, but when that much rain hit that quickly, there wasn't much that could be done.
"Sure, if there was something that we could've done, but when you have an act of God and an atmospheric river of four to five inches of rain in two hours ... the whole area was affected," Leahy said.
In addition to the complaints about runoff, KCL was issued a citation for storing materials outside of a permitted location. When DEQ officials visited the site, a two-acre portion of property which belongs to Columbia River Foursquare Church had been graded and a significant amount of sediment had been discharged from the church property to a wetland on the north side using a discharge pipe, according to the complaint.
Leahy said he had arranged a verbal agreement with the church to store topsoil on a portion of their property, but that information was not originally included in the construction stormwater permit filed with the state. The permit requires compliance for stormwater runoff related to construction if a developer is disturbing more than five acres of land.
Since the violation was issued, Leahy has submitted a revised 1200-C permit, which was approved this month by St. Helens City Planner Jacob Graichen.
Leahy said Wednesday that an appeal had been filed with DEQ about the violations and he was waiting to receive a hearing date from the agency.
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