Turf Valley owners pay half of environmental fine — a decade later

$100,000 penalty cut to $50,000

August 01, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A $100,000 state environmental fine levied against the owners of the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City a decade ago has finally been satisfied — at a seeming 50 percent discount.

The fine was originally assessed by the state Department of the Environment in November 2000, after Mangione Family Enterprises, the resort's owner, was found to have rebuilt two golf course ponds without a permit and then ignored a Howard County order to stop work. That order had been issued because sediment from the project drained into a nearby stream, which connects to the Little Patuxent River that eventually feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Mangiones denied any wrongdoing. Instead of appealing the fine, however, their attorney, Joseph Laverghetta, helped negotiate a deal with state officials in 2002 to pay $5,000 in cash and undertake a new project to benefit the river — worth $150,000. If that work wasn't done, the Mangiones were supposed to pay another $45,000 under the contract both sides agreed to, said Dawn Stoltzfus, an agency spokeswoman. But that work was never completed.

First, she said the Mangiones sought to fulfill their obligation as part of another, already planned golf course project that required a new state permit. That permit was not granted, however, she said, and the state insisted the firm do a new project. Proposals were batted back and forth for years.

"There were a series of projects that just didn't meet muster," she said. Finally, early last year, the state insisted on payment of the $45,000. It took another year, including help from the Maryland attorney general's office, to get the Mangiones to pay, she said. The long delay did not hurt the stream, however, Stoltzfus stressed.

"Corrective action to fix the problems were done right away," she said, which stopped the damage.

The final $45,000 was paid in June, she said. That came as a surprise to county Public Works Director James M. Irvin, who said county officials hadn't been kept informed.

"I'm glad," he said. "Closure is a good thing. We had not heard anything about the issue."

Lee Walker Oxenham, a Howard County environmentalist who is co-chairwoman of the Sierra Club's conservation committee, was outraged.

"If the state wants to get serious about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, they have to apply the real penalties, the full penalties," she said. "This is really the way things work — a slap on the wrist, the cost of doing business."

But Laverghetta, who is still the Mangiones' lawyer, said the delay was not his clients' fault. He said an early Turf Valley concept was initially approved by a state engineer, but he retired before it could be finalized. A new team then took over and after years of delays rejected Turf Valley's plans. The Mangiones got no real discount on the original fine because the firm spent more than $50,000 on engineers, environmental specialists and lawyers to draw up a series of proposals the state ultimately rejected. They were reluctant to pay the $45,000, he said, because they did not want to pay cash without getting any benefit to their property.

"We had an undefined target that kept moving and we didn't know how to get there. Turf Valley wanted to do work," the attorney said.

Laverghetta said in January 2001 that the firm didn't think a permit was required to rebuild the two 40-year-old ponds, though Irvin said the need for a permit was very clear. Any doubt could have been eliminated with a phone call, he added. The Mangiones are now engaged in developing several hundred more acres of the property for more than 1,300 new homes and a small shopping center.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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