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Originally published May 6, 2010 at 8:02 PM | Page modified May 6, 2010 at 8:09 PM

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Mill Creek developer faces fines for harming fish habitat

Department of Ecology fined real estate developer David Milne $134,000 in connection with mismanagement of a 40-acre construction site that destroyed salmon and steelhead habitat in Mount Vernon — the third penalty for Milne in just over a year.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Mill Creek-based real-estate developer has been fined for the third time in a little over a year by state regulators for mismanagement of construction sites that destroyed salmon habitat.

David Milne was fined $134,000 on May 1 by the state Department of Ecology in connection with more than 250 violations of stormwater regulations at a 40-acre construction site in Mount Vernon in 2008.

It was the third recent penalty in the past year for Milne, whose firm David Alan Development Co., was fined twice in 2009 for similar violations at the Horstman Heights construction project in Port Orchard. Ecology fined the company $28,000 in January 2009 and $48,000 in April 2009 in connection with that project. Milne has yet to respond to the agency, let alone pay the fines, said Katie Skipper, spokeswoman for the agency.

Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said the agency's next step will be to seek liens against the developer's property. "Part of it is how do we make him pay for what he has done, and the other is how do we keep him from doing this again," Sturdevant said.

The developer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The most recent violation damaged a mile of steelhead and salmon spawning habitat, according to the agency, when on May 21, 2008, a stormwater detention pond failed on Milne's Parkwood development. A flood of muddy water powerful enough to rip trees and stumps from the ground blasted down slope to Thunderbird and East Thunderbird Creeks, tributaries of the Skagit River, Skipper said.

The mud, water and debris scoured the bottom of the two creeks and settled in Trumpeter Creek. The creeks are home to coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Both populations of chinook and steelhead are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Juvenile salmon had been documented in the creek by state wildlife staff weeks before the stormwater pond blew out.

The failure was the result of a year of little or no effort to properly manage the construction site as required by federal and state law, as outlined in a construction stormwater permit granted to Milne, according to Ecology.

Inspectors repeatedly reported violations at the residential development, where Milne hired a series of contractors to prepare the 40-acre site for development — including clearing and leveling half of the site. Violations ranged from unstable soils to muddy water flowing from the site to the unfinished pond. Milne stopped paying the contractors, who left the site unsupervised, and conditions deteriorated until the pond failed, the agency says.

"It was a really egregious example," Sturdevant said. "It's hard for people to realize even in small amounts, when you add that up over a large amount of raw ground, it can really add up and mess with fish."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com

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