By Paul Snyder
An attorney for a Berlin contractor argues the state cracked down too hard on the company with a $194,000 fine for environmental violations on two construction projects.
“There were violations,” said Richard Carlson, the attorney representing Olsen Brothers Enterprises LLC. “But our main argument is the state’s contention that there were no best management practices put in place.”
The state’s allegations of best-management violations are tied to the company’s construction of a grain-storage building in Boscobel and another in Belmont. According to court documents, Olsen Brothers began construction on both projects before acquiring storm-water control and erosion permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Laura Madsen, DNR storm-water specialist, said the agency will not comment on the case because it still is under legal review.
Carlson, an attorney with Appleton-based Silton, Seifert, Carlson & Gamble SC, said Olsen Brothers did not apply for DNR permits on the Boscobel job because company leaders incorrectly believed the land was under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, not the DNR. When the DNR alerted Olsen Brothers that the company had to perform an archaeological survey of the site, Carlson said, it was December 2007 and construction had stopped for winter.
The company surveyed the land in spring 2008 and applied for and received the environmental permits, Carlson said. But, he said, the DNR still docked the company for building without a permit for about 90 winter days when there was no construction work.
Those fines, according to court documents, increased the penalty on the Boscobel job from $23,850 to $56,950.
“There’s no reason,” Carlson said, “why the DNR couldn’t issue the permit with the understanding that we would do the study once work could begin again.”
The company is not disputing the $51,750 fine on the Belmont project, Carlson said. Olsen Brothers, he said, mistakenly assumed its permit applications were complete and the permits would arrive by the time construction started.
DNR officials told the company the applications were incomplete and filed a temporary restraining order to halt construction until the permits were granted, according to court documents. The company refiled the applications, received the permits and finished the job.
Company Principal Paul Olsen’s excuses for not pulling permits are not good enough, according to Lafayette County Circuit Court Judge William D. Johnston, who ruled against Olsen Brothers this week.
According to Johnston’s ruling, the company’s ignorance of required permits showed “great disdain” for state environmental regulations.
Ultimately, Carlson said, the DNR did not find evidence of environmental damage on the Boscobel or Belmont projects. Although there were violations on both projects, he said the company’s fines should only amount to roughly $40,000 of the $194,271.50 in penalties, which include legal fees.
Olsen could not be reached for comment before deadline Thursday, and Carlson said he does not know if the company will appeal.
“We don’t have a lot of wiggle room here because the state says our violations amount to about $100,000,” Carlson said. “The rest of the $194,000 is made up of statutory penalties we might have to pay anyway.
“Is it worth appealing over a difference of about $50,000? I don’t know. It’s up to the client.”