O'STEEN BROTHERS, COUNTY AGREE TO SETTLE

Contractor OKs paying $2,500 for runoff into creek


Published: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 12:09 a.m.
Gainesville building contractor O'Steen Brothers Inc. has agreed to pay Alachua County $2,500 as a settlement for violating environmental codes at the site of a new subdivision.
The settlement was approved by the Alachua County Commission Tuesday on a 4-1 vote with Chairman Mike Byerly dissenting, saying he is "uncomfortable" with such settlements.
The violations stem from construction at the Sorrento subdivision in the 2200 block of NW 53rd Avenue.
The county maintains that between June 4 and June 20 excessive surface-water runoff from the construction into a branch of Hogtown Creek degraded water quality.
Also cited was Watson Construction Co., which paid the fines. O'Steen Brothers contested the fines, but decided to settle as court costs steepened, said O'Steen attorney Jeff Braswell.
Braswell said the company was following an engineering plan that had been approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District. He added that 14 inches of rain during the period, causing much of the runoff, was more than anticipated in the sediment control plans.
"From our perspective, we are not the responsible party here," Braswell said. "It was the professional system that failed."
Byerly questioned whether settlements are an effective deterrent for companies violating environmental laws.
"I've always been uncomfortable with settlement agreements. Paying money in lieu of going through the process of determining guilt or innocence is not something most individuals are able to do if they break the law," Byerly said. "I can't simply pay in lieu of being responsible for my actions. I can't see how this is any different."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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