Wetland disturbance in Marshall nets $137,000 penalty

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A local entrepreneur has been ordered to pay the state Department of Environmental Protection $137,000 in civil penalties for excavating wetlands without a permit and impacting a stream to build ponds on his property in Marshall.

"We halted the work because what he was doing was changing the course of the stream and digging a hole in wetlands for a pond," said John Poister, a DEP spokesman. "One of the things that we're very strict about is disturbing any wetlands without a permit and we would seldom allow it in the best of circumstances."

The consent order comes more than two years after the agency first inspected the property of Francois Bitz and learned that in 2009 and 2010 he had dug up two acres of wetlands and disturbed about 1,100 feet of a tributary to Big Sewickley Creek classified as a trout stocked fishery, the DEP said.

The DEP issued two compliance orders in July 2010 to Mr. Bitz stating that he had violated the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law and the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act by not meeting regulations that protect wetlands and mitigate erosion during construction activity.

A condition of the agreement he signed with the agency is that he must submit a revised permit application to remediate and restore the stream and wetlands. After the permit is issued, the restoration must begin within two months and be completed in six.

Mr. Bitz, founder of the nonprofit Bitz Foundation, said about a third of a handful of watering holes and recreational ponds on his property were found to be in violation.

He said he does not contest the violations and agrees that he should have gotten the proper permits.

Now he's waiting for approval to begin the restoration work and is becoming frustrated with the time and money he's spending outside of the fine and actual restoration.

"Correcting it is not hard," he said. "What's hard is the paperwork and the bureaucracy."

Mr. Bitz was one of four Carnegie Mellon researchers that founded Fore Systems, a network equipment maker that sold for $4.5 billion in 1999.

He said he feels the DEP is targeting him.

"The kind of watering hole that we're talking about is what everyone in the neighborhood is doing," he said. "They always go after the easy money.'

The DEP said Mr. Bitz's property was brought to their attention by a Marshall official.

"Our message to people is if you're thinking about touching a waterway, call the DEP first," Mr. Poister said.

"We can tell you very quickly what our regulations are and if necessary send an inspector out to look at what you're planning and tell you in advance what you can and cannot do."


Taryn Luna: 412-263-1985 or tluna@post-gazette.com


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