MNDOT cited for stormwater violations on Highway 53 improvement project

Contact, Alexis Donath, 651-757-2312

Duluth, Minn. — Road construction projects usually mean necessary detours and delays for travelers. Sometimes they may prove hazardous to the environment, too.

Due to a failure to provide required stormwater controls at the Highway 53 project near Angora in northeast Minnesota, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) penalized the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

MnDOT, the state agency responsible for operating and maintaining highways and transportation infrastructure, along with hundreds of other road projects, is the owner of the ten-mile Trunk Highway 53 project between Virginia and Cook. Construction work included an upgrade from two to four lanes, grading and surfacing the highway and adding two bridges.

An MPCA inspector visited the site and found no permanent stormwater treatment practices incorporated into project, nor were any described in MnDOT’s pollution prevention plan. Both are violations of the state construction stormwater permit that regulates discharges to state waterways. The construction site crosses the Rice River in three places and is surrounded by wetlands, forests and hay fields. The MPCA has no way to say if an actual stormwater release took place. Penalties are often based on potential for harm.

By not following the permit’s requirements, MnDOT was required to performed corrective actions and pay a $31,380 civil penalty.

“Penalties and enforcement actions against state and local government entities are not that unusual,” says MPCA Land and Air compliance manager Katie Koelfgen. “Their facilities and projects get the same environmental oversight as the private sector.”

When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations, and how promptly the violations were reported to authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions, visit the agency's quarterly summary of enforcement actions webpage.

Minnesota law requires governmental units and contractors to apply for a stormwater permit when construction projects disturb more than one acre of soil. The MPCA offers outreach and training to help facilities meet their permit requirements. For more information on stormwater permits, call Brian Green, MPCA compliance coordinator, at 507-206-2610 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.