A prominent Sumner developer was sentenced to prison today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma for a felony violation of the Clean Water Act.
Bryan Stowe, 65, was sentenced to six months in prison, one year of supervised release, and a $300,000 fine for knowingly violating a national pollution discharge elimination permit. In addition, Stowe will make a $100,000 payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for environmental projects targeting resources impacted by the illegal discharges.
Stowe, as president and co-owner of Stowe Construction, Inc., admitted knowingly violating the Construction General Storm Water Permit for the Rainier Park of Industry project, located on West Valley Highway in Sumner.
Permit violations contributed to two major landslides at the site in 2010 and 2011. Both slides forced closure of the West Valley Highway.
Stowe's company was found guilty of the violations in April.
This case is one of the first storm water pollution criminal cases brought in the United States. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton referenced the Clean Water Act saying, “These regulations serve a broad and useful purpose. You violated them persistently. You were wrong.”
U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan concurs.
“This defendant chose profit over environmental stewardship, repeatedly scoffing at those who tried to get him to literally ‘clean-up his act,’” said Durkan. “This prison sentence shows we will not allow violators to think they can simply pay money later for a crime they commit today. Today they understand that the price also includes their liberty.”
“As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, it's sadly ironic that the U.S. Attorney's Office must prosecute such a stunning case of knowing and willful environmental destruction that also threatened public safety,” said Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge for EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in the Northwest. “Despite serious financial investment and civic leadership in the restoration of Puget Sound, Defendant Bryan Stowe and his company chose profit over protection, resulting in a landslide, water pollution and road closures. The EPA and Washington Department of Ecology want this criminal case to send a message to developers: Serious environmental crimes will be vigorously pursued.”
Last month Stowe Construction, Inc. was sentenced to a $350,000 criminal fine. Both Stowe and his company will be subject to a court-imposed storm water compliance plan for all current and future development sites.
Stormwater has been recognized as one of the biggest threats to the health of Puget Sound. Rainwater runoff from developed properties and construction sites contribute a significant amount of pollutants to the wetlands, streams, and rivers that comprise watersheds feeding into Puget Sound. Runoff from construction sites in particular can compromise the essential filtering functions of wetlands if developers fail to implement and maintain required measures to minimize and prevent pollutants from leaving the site.
According to various records filed in the case, Stowe, acting on behalf of Stowe Construction, obtained coverage under the Construction Storm Water General Permit for the West Valley Highway site in October 2006. The permit required Stowe Construction to prepare and implement a plan to prevent the discharge of pollutants through use site improvements and practices designed to minimize and eliminate the migration of pollutants from the site to nearby waters.
Stowe admits in the plea agreement to failing to install adequate improvements and practices between 2007 and 2011. These failures led to significant discharges of pollutants from the site to adjacent wetlands and streams. In addition, the plea agreements acknowledge that weekly site inspection reports and discharge sampling reports intended to assist regulators in assessing the adequacy of site improvement and practices were falsified.
State and federal regulators monitoring the West Valley Highway site issued several administrative compliance orders in an unsuccessful effort to bring Stowe and the company into compliance.
In their request for a prison sentence prosecutors wrote to the court that the crimes did significant environmental damage.
“Here, the permit violations are symptoms of the defendant’s disregard for all regulatory oversight that might hurt his bottom line. He was not swayed by violation letters, administrative orders, or civil penalties. His actions exhibit a total lack of respect for the law – a law he was well aware of – as well as for the environment. Mr. Stowe’s non-compliance caused increased sedimentation in the White River and a neighboring wetlands restoration project, as well as a number of landslides,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division (EPA-CID) with assistance from the Washington State Department of Ecology and the City of Sumner, Washington. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Diggs and Jim Oesterle.
Information courtesy of the U.S. Attorney's Office of Western Washington