The Phoenix contractor responsible for building Mesa’s Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway has been cited repeatedly for violating county dust control measures and last week paid thousands of dollars in fines related to the taxpayerfunded project.
Pulice Construction Inc. tracked dirt and mud onto roads, allowed dirt-caked trucks to leave construction sites, failed to cover sources of dust with tarps and used a dry street sweeper on U.S. 60 that kicked up a 20-foot plume of dust, according to the violation notices.
The dust ultimately settled — and so did Pulice.
The contractor negotiated an $18,181 settlement agreement with the Maricopa County Air Quality Department on March 13 for six notices of air pollution violations issued since February 2006, air quality director Robert Kard said. The company paid the fines March 29.
“They have a lot of repeti- tive violations for track-out of dirt and mud onto the roadway surfaces,” Kard said.
The Pulice settlement covered violations at three sites — Power and McDowell roads, U.S. 60 and Ellsworth Road, and Ellsworth and Main Street — and was the third-largest negotiated by the Air Quality Department in March.
The company did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
The month’s biggest fines were paid by two other Phoenix-based companies: Clearbrook Investments Inc., which paid $31,297, and The Weitz Company LLC, which forked over $20,914.
In all, the Air Quality Department in March collected nearly $220,000 in pollution fines from companies and organizations including Gilbert ($6,201), Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa ($5,984) and Hermosa Church & Academy in Phoenix ($2,890).
One company that refused to negotiate, KLM Builders of Mesa, was ordered by the Maricopa County Superior Court on March 22 to pay $7,500, plus $1,828 in legal fees, for two violation notices. The company was cited for failure to obtain a dust-generating permit.
The Air Quality Department has stepped up its enforcement efforts in recent months, tripling the number of inspectors from 10 to 30 and paying them more in an effort to reduce turnover.
It collected $3.7 million in fines in 2006, including nearly $611,000 in December. In January, it took in $265,000 in fines, and another $326,000 in February.
Despite the beefed-up enforcement, Kard said he doesn’t see attitudes changing on the part of polluters.
He added that a recent statistical analysis showed 51 percent of all construction sites violated pollution standards in 2006.
“I believe these fines are being treated in some cases as the cost of doing business,” he said.
So Kard is trying a new strategy — shaming the violators by sending their names to the press.
“We’ve been told people don’t like their name in the paper,” he said. “I think people should be embarrassed at their bad behavior, because that behavior affects all of our health.”
County studies show that construction activity accounts for nearly 40 percent of the area’s large particulate matter, known as PM-10. It is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because it causes breathing disorders, can damage lung tissue and may lead to premature death. The elderly, children and people with asthma and other respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable.
Air quality data from 2004 to 2006 showed dust levels exceeded the federal standard and, as a result, the state failed to meet a Dec. 31, 2006, compliance deadline. The Valley violated federal air quality standards on 19 days in 2005 and 27 days in 2006. The EPA allows just three violations in a three-year period.
Arizona has until the end of this year to submit a plan to reduce the level of PM-10, by 5 percent annually beginning in 2008. Each subsequent year the state fails to meet the federal PM-10 standard, it will have to submit another, more aggressive plan or face losing federal highway funds. The EPA also has the authority to take over Maricopa County’s air quality permitting process — a move that businesses are concerned could effectively grind development to a halt.