A Pierce County landowner has been fined $90,000 after he hired a contractor in November 2016 to illegally drain, clear, and fill two protected wetlands in order to expand a planned housing development.
The Washington Department of Ecology levied the penalty after landowner Richard Leone of Gig Harbor destroyed 1.5 acres of forested wetlands that could take up to 50 years to restore. Leone will be required to pay for all costs related to the wetlands’ restoration.
“Wetlands are critical to the overall health of Washington’s watersheds,” says Perry Lund, section manager for Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance program. “Mr. Leone documented the wetlands in a report submitted to Pierce County, so he was fully aware of their locations and took specific, targeted steps to destroy them.”
Despite multiple notifications, warnings, and orders issued to the landowner from local, state, and federal agencies, Leone failed to comply with their requirements, leading to Ecology’s civil penalty for the wetlands’ willful destruction.
Pierce County has also taken action against the landowner. In addition to issuing two civil penalties of $1,000 and $4,000, the county revoked the preliminary plat that allowed the new development. Leone will be unable to develop any portion of the property at this time.
The original fieldwork that led to the delineation report on the Puyallup property at 17320 82nd Ave. E began in 2005 and identifies the two wetlands. In 2014, the landowner was approved by Pierce County for a 48-lot, preliminary plat detailing the protection of the wetlands and their required buffers. The illegal actions taken by Leone to destroy the wetlands were to support full development of the property.
Ecology is responsible for protecting, restoring, and managing Washington’s wetlands. In addition to holding storm runoff, protecting surface and groundwater, and controlling erosion, wetlands are important because they provide habitat for wildlife, including rare, threatened, and endangered species.
Leone has 30 days to pay the penalty or appeal it to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board.