In a press release sent at 8 p.m. on the evening of July 3, the Idaho Transportation Department complained that a $325,000 fine from the Environmental Protection Agency was based on technicalities.
"We are disappointed the EPA continues to focus on the technicalities of a complicated process rather than our efforts to keep Idaho's water clean," ITD chief Pamela Lowe stated in the release.
But the technicalities—training and oversight to prevent stormwater pollution from road projects—are ones that the agency agreed to as part of a 2006 settlement that cost the state $895,000.
"For whatever reason, or reasons they didn't follow through with what they agreed to do," said Mike Bussell, compliance and enforcement director for EPA's northwest region.
The beef started when a road-widening project on U.S. 95 near Lake Coeur d'Alene led to massive runoff into Mica Creek and a spendy cleanup process. ITD agreed to pay fines and to get its act together in terms of runoff containment. That included EPA-led training and mock inspections meant to demonstrate sound construction practices.
But earlier this year, EPA took the kid gloves off.
"We've been clearer with folks that we're ... going to start doing formal inspections," Bussell said.
Lowe said that the fines were mostly about forms: "The EPA fined the department for failing to complete forms correctly and sign documents. In several instances, the department was fined for submitting forms late. Then additional fines were levied for not reporting to the EPA Seattle office the forms would be late. Fines were also levied for third-party inspectors not meeting EPA training requirements."
But Bussell said the bulk of the violations were for improper training.
The fines, $1.2 million worth, come at a time when ITD is under legislative scrutiny for wasting taxpayer money, and Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter is traveling the state asking for millions of dollars in additional road funding.