‘Stennis Tech Park’ developer gets prison term for wetlands violations
By Dwayne Bremer
Apr 18, 2014, 18:49
An Alabama man on Thursday was sentenced to serve time in federal prison for violations of the federal Clean Water Act involving a failed Bay St. Louis development.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola sentenced William R. "Rusty" Miller to 15 months in prison and to pay more than $34,000 in fines and restitution.
Miller pled guilty in December 2013, and admitted to having caused the excavation and filling of wetlands on a 1,710 acre parcel of undeveloped property in Hancock County, west of the intersection of Hwy. 603 and Interstate 10.
In 2001 and 2002, three companies--Hancock County Land, LLC, Stennis Land, LLC, and Stennis Technology Park, Inc.--purchased about 1,700 acres of undeveloped land in Hancock County.
The land was located on the west side of Highway 603, spanning from Bayou Lacroix to just south of the Stennis Airport.
About 80 percent of the property was wetlands.
Developers had ambitious plans and wanted to build a residential community and commercial corridor, complete with hotels, shops, and other businesses.
The first phase of the development apparently began in 2004, when developers obtained a wetlands permit for 22 acres of land just northwest of I-10, the indictment said.
In 2007, the current Tech Park building was completed on that 22-acre site.
In 2006 and 2007, Miller began implementing what he told investors was a "master drainage plan" for the property, the indictment said.
An excavation contractor was hired to trench, drain, and fill large portions of the property south of the interstate to "lower the water table of the entire property," records show.
The only permit ever obtained was for the original 22 acres, the indictment said.
About that time, residents of the Bayou Lacroix area began complaining to the Hancock County Board of Supervisors about the project.
The board of supervisors investigated and ultimately turned its findings over to state and federal agencies, officials said Monday.
The state and federal investigation apparently moved very slowly and the frustrated property owners turned to environmental watchdog Gulf Restoration Network in 2008, which filed a civil lawsuit in federal court.
In pleading guilty, Miller acknowledged that he knowingly ditched, drained and filled wetlands at 10 locations on the property without having obtained a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, officials said.
"Mississippi's coastal wetlands are an essential state resource,” U.S. Attorney Gregory Davis said in a press release Thursday. “They filter our water, provide us protection from storms, and they are the nurseries for fish and other wildlife. My office has demonstrated many times that we are committed to the protection of our environment. Individuals and companies who illegally develop our wetlands, who chose
their own economic interest over the public's interest, will face prosecution and perhaps imprisonment, as the defendant has today."