EPA weighs Loomis restoration plan
EPA officials are reviewing a restoration plan submitted this summer by landowner Bob Loomis, who was ordered in May to remove as much as 45,000 cubic yards of fill from a parcel of wetlands at 2.5 Mile Haines Highway.
Loomis has hired an attorney and biological consultant to make his case. He said removing the fill would cost him $500,000 plus more for other work the EPA wants done there.
The agency alleged in April that besides placing fill into 3.3 acres of wetlands, Loomis altered the natural channel of a salmon stream by installing a culvert as part of an access road and directed construction activities that resulted in stormwater discharges into the wetlands and salmon stream.
The EPA has backed off a Sept. 1 deadline for removing fill, said wetlands program coordinator Mark Jen. "We’ll give him latitude because we haven’t been able to reach agreement on his restoration plan."
Jen wants Loomis to remove unauthorized fill in the wetlands, remove a culvert and access road he built and restore the area. So far, Loomis is proposing to remove a small amount of fill, restore a drainage area on the north side of Haines Highway, revegetate around a culvert and put in a small pond.
"We’ve got concerns (with Loomis’ proposal). What he proposes to remove is not consistent with what we’ve requested in the compliance order. Hopefully we can reach some kind of agreement on where we’ll go on restoration," Jen said.
Loomis can either remove the fill or combine fill removal with other mitigation, including paying an in lieu fee to a land trust, or setting aside other property for protection, he said.
"If he’s not willing to remove all the fill, we could look at other things," Jen said. "Hopefully we can get agreement this winter on a restoration plan."
Loomis also has to take steps to limit stormwater pollution, including grading side slopes to 45 degrees and putting in fill fences, a type of fabric barrier.
If the sides can’t reach agreement, the EPA could go to court, Jen said. "Before pursuing that option, we try to work with the landowner first."
Kagel Environmental, the consulting firm hired by Loomis, maintains that a fill pad of 1.5 acres existed on the site as early as 1978, and had grown to 2.5 acres by 2003. Areas filled by Loomis in 2005 and 2006 amount to .22 acres, and area filled at the time weren’t wetlands, Kagel said.
The amount of fill added there since 2005 is closer to an estimate of 406 cubic yards cited by the Army Corps of Engineers in February 2009, Kagel said.
Kagel asserts that the total area of fill is 2.4 acres and that the five-foot culvert in the salmon stream directly south of the fill pad was placed there by Loomis’ father, Jerry Loomis, at least seven years ago.
Biologist Ray Kagel said the EPA can only hold Loomis responsible for work in the past five years. "They want to go back to 1961. Aerial photos showed a fill pad back then. The Clean Water Act didn’t come until 1975."
Kagel said his company took eight borings at the site in May, including three in the fill, and found no wetlands in filled areas. "The Corps and the EPA dug around the fill, but not in it," Kagel said.
Jen and Army Corps of Engineers official Randy Vigil of Juneau were scheduled to visit the Loomis property Sept. 2, but a flight cancellation due to weather prevented the trip. Loomis, who paid to bring his consultant to Haines that day from Idaho, questioned why Jen didn’t come later in the day when flights resumed.