Supplementing Site Inspections

July 1, 2005

More than two years into NPDES Phase II, the requirement to control construction-site runoff is still causing pain and confusion on many work sites. Despite well-publicized enforcement measures-exorbitant fines, costly stop-work orders, crackdowns by the EPA on some high-profile companies like Wal-Mart-and even in spite of lawsuits from citizens’ and environmental groups against developers, construction-site standards aren’t being met consistently.

Violations happen for different reasons: Sometimes a developer is willfully ignoring the rules, gambling on the permitting authority not having enough inspectors in the field and believing the chances of getting caught are small. In those cases, the fines and other punitive measures might be the best motivator. But it’s usually more complicated than that, and on whichever side of the issue you’re working-as a contractor, consultant, product vendor, or inspector-the uncertainty is part of the frustration.

Often, even now, problems occur because of a basic lack of knowledge about what’s supposed to happen and when. Sometimes a contractor doesn’t have-and didn’t know he was supposed to have, or didn’t know how to create-a workable stormwater pollution prevention plan for the site. Sometimes the people working at the site don’t know which BMPs to use, or how to install or maintain them. In these cases, ideally, a site inspector might work with the contractor to fix the problems, even though it’s a bit late to be receiving this kind of training on the job site. In most places, though, there just aren’t enough inspectors to go around, and those that are on the job are trying to cover as much territory as possible. Providing onsite instruction just isn’t an option.

Some permitting authorities are avoiding these end-of-the-line crises by providing training ahead of time, or by supplementing the inspectors’ role with onsite assistance. The State of Delaware, through its Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, began in the early 1990s to offer training for contractors, requiring on every construction site someone who has taken the half-day DNREC course. It even offers a Certified Construction Reviewer course that certifies people to perform supplemental onsite inspections, working closely with and reporting results to the DNREC. Georgia, too, is working on courses aimed at contractors and inspectors alike, and thousands will be required to take those courses once the program is in place.

Another plan is being tested right now in Illinois, with promising results. Last year the state’s Environmental Protection Agency-the NPDES permit authority-teamed up with several Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which are now providing onsite inspections. Each SWCD involved in this pilot program has a CPESC on staff, and the inspectors can spend more time and offer more insight than most inspectors have time to do. Rick Macho of the Madison County SWCD describes the program in an article in this issue. “Perhaps the most meaningful part of this whole process is the education of the contractors, engineers, and developers as to why we are recommending the practices that are best suited to the particular situation,” he notes.

We’ll be watching to see how this program works out and whether it continues beyond its initial yearlong trial. It could become a model for using already existing resources-SWCDs and CPESCs-to bring solutions and expertise to the site even after a project is underway.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.