ADEM planning penalties over Vestavia Hills residential development

by Brian Pia, I-Team InvestigatorTuesday, November 26th 2019

Vestavia Hills, AL (11/26/2019) – The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is planning a formal enforcement action and financial penalties over a Vestavia Hills residential development.

That development was the subject of an I-Team investigation last month.

ADEM issued a notice of violation to a subcontractor working on the Helen Ridge residential development in Vestavia Hills two weeks ago.

That’s after the staff attorney for the Cahaba Riverkeeper complained about sediment from the construction site getting into the Cahaba River — a major source of our drinking water.

Harris Doyle Homes will build 48 houses priced around a half-million dollars at Helen Ridge.

The developer wouldn’t allow us on the property, which is near the Cahaba River and the Birmingham Water Works’ Cahaba Pumping Station.

The state is planning to take action

According to a letter from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to a Harris Doyle Homes’ subcontractor named the T.E. Stevens Company, ADEM plans to issue a proposed consent order, with a penalty, for violations of the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act and the federal Clean Water Act.

David Butler is the staff attorney for the non-profit environmental group Cahaba Riverkeeper. He’s filed several complaints about the development.

“If they do file a consent order that will be negotiated with the builder. So, they’re not really imposing any fines. They’re asking nicely,” Butler said.

According to ADEM, effective best management practices for controlling pollutants in stormwater run-off haven’t been fully implemented and regularly maintained at the construction site. That’s resulted in the potential for uncontrolled discharges of sediment, turbidity, and other pollutants, into the Cahaba River.

“It reduces the capacity of the river to carry water. It adds to the cost of treating our drinking water. It impacts the biodiversity that the Cahaba is known for,” Butler said.

Back in 2013, state officials said the Upper Cahaba River Watershed was impaired due to sediment most likely from construction activities.

Last month, we showed you several examples of sediment getting into the Cahaba River. The Cahaba Riverkeeper says each incident is tied to the Helen Ridge development.

A warning letter followed by notices of violations

ADEM issued a warning letter on March 21st, a notice of violation on September 19th, a notice of insufficient response on October 3rd, and the most recent notice of violation on November 14th. Improvements were made at the construction site following those violations.

“Not only did we file complaints when this all started. We were at the planning meetings before they turned one shovel of dirt here and we predicted exactly what was going to happen. And we’re the bad guys,” Butler said.

Response from Harris Doyle Homes

Harris Doyle Homes said no one would be available for an on-camera interview. The company said in an emailed statement that “Harris Doyle takes environmental maintenance and management very seriously.”

The company said that after the most recent violation letter from ADEM, “A multitude of best management practices were implemented at the Helen Ridge site in order to prevent erosion and sediment loss.”

No response from the subcontractor

The negotiation process could take several weeks once Harris Doyle Homes’ subcontractor, T.E. Stevens company, receives ADEM’s proposed consent order.

A final order could be completed early next year.

Meantime, we’ve reached out to T.E. Stevens Company Vice President Patrick McLaughlin. He’s listed on ADEM documents as the “responsible official.”

We’ve called him and sent him emails. No response.