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Developer cited for violating clean water act after developing part of subdivision in wetlands

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LIVINGSTON PARISH- An active cease and desist order dating back to 2008 remains in place in Livingston Parish by the US Army Corps of Engineers after it found developers partially built an upscale subdivision in the wetlands with no federal permits.

Findings by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate the developers violated the Clean Water Act by discharging fill after land was cleared into the wetlands. Last month, a federal worker with the US Army Corps of Engineers gave a sworn affidavit that indicated no applications have ever been received for permits. Despite an active cease and desist in place by the Army Corps, it appears not much is being done to enforce it.

Travis Bond said he built his dream home in the Louisiana Purchase Equestrian Estates Subdivision in Livingston Parish a couple years ago. That dream of a home quickly turned into a nightmare that he said he still can't forget. The house pad is the only bit of high ground after a normal rain, according to Bond.

"I only got to cut the grass four times in two years," Bond said. "The driveway was steadily sinking. They told us it was going to cost us $50,000 to get the yard to drain right. That did not include ripping up the driveway."

Bond said the yard was like mush. The problems continued to plague him. Turns out, the lot he purchased was considered wetlands.

In a sworn affidavit, William Nethery with the Army Corps of Engineers said in 2008, the Corps notified Paco Swain that a portion of the land clearing activities were in wetlands and were violations of the Clean Water Act. Swain was directed in 2008 to stop work and not to perform any further unauthorized work.

"In this case, we were notified of a possible violation working without a permit," Ricky Boyett with the US Army Corps of Engineers said. "When we evaluated the site, there were wetlands on the site. There was development and took the process of issuing a cease and desist."

The problem eventually made its way to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA in 2015 ruled the violation could have constituted a penalty of up to $177,500, but due to Paco Swain claiming he could not pay, a fine of only $500 dollars was implemented, despite the findings being substantiated. That part of the subdivision was cleared wetlands.

"If the regulations are in place, and the regulations are not followed and they are still allowed to do what they are doing, developments, construction... That is very alarming," Travis Bond's attorney, Michael Hendry said.

Hendry said it's concerning that it appears federal law was simply ignored and continues to not be enforced.

"We are fighting for Mr. Bond because we don't believe he should have ever been in this situation to begin with," Hendry said.

Attorney Diana Tonagel is representing the developers of the subdivision. Tonagel claimed everything has been adjudicated and rectified but she declined to do an on-camera interview.

Instead, Tonagel kept referring to the EPA settlement document saying her client's case had been adjudicated. But, that does not jibe with what the Army Corps of Engineers told us, as it still currently has an active cease and desist order for the developers of the subdivision.

"Under your normal process, when we issue a cease and desist, there are two alternatives," Boyett said. "Restore the conditions to as it was before they worked... Or come in get a permit and mitigate for any damages."

Restoring the area to what it looked like before has not happened as the subdivision continues to grow.

"I want justice," Bond said. "I want everyone to know how these developers and owners what kind of people they are. A real man would not do that to a working man."

The EPA told WBRZ the agency was limited in what it could say about this case. A spokeswoman added the EPA does not confirm or deny the presence of an investigation. However, it did confirm a penalty complaint was issued to the developers six years ago.


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