HANCOCK COUNTY — A Mississippi corporation has pleaded guilty to illegally filling wetlands near Bay St. Louis.
Hancock County Land, LLC entered the plea yesterday and agreed to pay a $1-million fine and take remedial measures for two felony violations of the Clean Water Act., said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
HCL admitted causing the unauthorized excavation and filling of wetlands on a 1,710-acre parcel of undeveloped land in Hancock County, according to a Justice Department news release.
Real estate developer and HCL minority owner, William R. Miller, was charged in November with Clean Water Act violations related to the same case and is expected to be scheduled for trial over the next few months.
According to charges filed in federal court in Jackson, when HCL purchased the property it was informed by a wetland expert that as much as 80 percent of its land was federally protected connected by streams and bayous to the Gulf of Mexico and, therefore, that the property could not be developed without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In pleading guilty before senior U.S. District Judge Walter J. Gex III, HCL admitted that it knowingly ditched, drained and filled wetlands at multiple locations without getting the required permits.
Under the plea, HCL agreed to pay a $1-million penalty and agreed to restore and preserve the damaged wetlands. The agreements also require HCL to re-grade and then re-plant, with appropriate native vegetation, the wetland area it excavated and filled and donate approximately 272 acres of the southwest quadrant of its property to the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to be preserved in perpetuity. HCL is also required to fund its management and maintenance, to pay $100,000 toward the litigation costs of the Gulf Restoration Network, and to pay a civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury of $95,000.