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The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that Wal-Mart will pay a civil penalty of $24,000 for not taking steps to prevent rain water from washing sediments and pollution into waterways at its Supercenter construction site in Caguas, Puerto Rico as required under the Clean Water Act. As a result of the agreement, the company will also provide at least $98,000 for the preservation of land in the area of Las Cucharillas Marsh, part of the San Juan Bay Estuary Watershed. The parcel will be perpetually maintained as an environmentally-protected area through deed restrictions and legal agreements.
“Wal-Mart should have taken some simple, straightforward steps to control the rainwater run-off from its construction site and to protect the environment,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “As development and construction continues to increase on the island, all companies both big and small, need to be aware that following environmental regulations is a business necessity. One positive result of this agreement will be the purchase and preservation of land in the area of Las Cucharillas Marsh, a precious ecosystem that contains the highest diversity of waterfowl in the San Juan Bay.”
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart de Puerto Rico, Inc. failed to obtain the appropriate storm water construction permit on time, failed to promptly develop a plan to control storm water pollution, failed to prepare and maintain inspection reports and failed to carry out best management practices during construction of the Caguas Supercenter. All of these actions are requirements of EPA’s storm water general construction permit.
The transferred land is located around Laguna La Mano in the sensitive watershed of Las Cucharillas Marsh in Cataño. Las Cucharillas Marsh is located at the intersection of the municipalities of Cataño, Guaynabo and Bayamon and covers approximately 1,236 acres, consisting mostly of wetlands, mangrove forests and open waters. The marsh serves as a flood plain and acts as a sediment and nutrient filter for runoff waters before they reach the San Juan Bay.
Construction projects are a potentially significant source of storm water related sediment runoff when soil at these sites is disturbed or left in loose piles. When rain washes through the soil, large amounts of sediment may wash into local water bodies, clogging rivers, shore lines and wetlands, and may impact aquatic habitat and reduce the capacity of Puerto Rico’s reservoirs.
The Clean Water Act requires operators of construction sites of one acre or larger (including smaller sites that are part of a larger common plan of development) to obtain a permit to discharge storm water and to develop and carry out a storm water pollution prevention plan. EPA will continue to pursue those who do not follow the Clean Water Act and the permitting requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System as part of the national wet weather enforcement priority. These actions are part of an ongoing and concerted national effort by EPA to reduce storm water pollution and improve water quality.