Baldwin & Sons fined $6.6M for stormwater runoff from South OC housing project

Developer alleged to allow 6M-plus gallons into creek while ignoring Lake Forest cease and desist orders

Baldwin & Sons' Al Baldwin, Shawn Baldwin, Steve Baldwin, and Ron Baldwin with rendering of Portola Center South (Baldwin & Sons, AVRP)
Baldwin & Sons' Al Baldwin, Shawn Baldwin, Steve Baldwin, and Ron Baldwin with rendering of Portola Center South (Baldwin & Sons, AVRP)

A developer behind a nearly 200-acre construction project in Lake Forest has been fined $6.6 million for allowing millions of gallons of stormwater to flow into Aliso Creek.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board fined Baldwin & Sons for more than 6 million gallons of dirty runoff in 2015 and 2016 during its development of Portola Center South in South Orange County, the Orange County Register reported. The developer has 30 days to pay the fine.

The agency alleges the builder violated permit requirements for controlling runoff from construction, including ones governing sediment and erosion control. It also alleges the developer failed to comply with corrective or cease-and-desist orders from the city of Lake Forest.

The fine levied against the Newport Beach-based developer is the largest ever by the water regulatory agency for construction stormwater violations, its executive director said. The city alerted the agency after numerous attempts to get the construction site into compliance.

“It was merited because of the sheer number and types of violations,” said David Gibson, director of the water agency. The violations included instances of runoff into Aliso Creek “that were not adequately controlled through the best management practices,” he said.

A representative from Baldwin & Sons did not respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

Plans for the mixed-use Portola Center South project included more than 500 single and multi-family homes, 58 senior units and shops and restaurants on 195 acres off Glenn Ranch and Saddleback roads.

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Portola Center South is still in development. All of the more than 300 single-family homes slated have been built. The mixed-use portion broke ground last month, while the apartments are expected to be completed this summer.

The bulk of the site was sold by Baldwin & Sons to China-based Landsea Holdings Corp. in 2015.

Baldwin & Sons was the company that filed for the site’s permit, Gibson said, and “they were the ones who initiated the construction and were responsible for the site for the vast majority of the time of the alleged violations.”

While the stormwater permit requires developers to stabilize slopes and have in place measures to control erosion and sediment movement in case of rain, Baldwin & Sons is alleged to have failed to curb runoff or contain fluids leaking from equipment despite repeated notices and orders issued by the city, agency officials said

Untreated stormwater can cloud creekwater water, which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants, and it can clog fish gills, smother spawning areas, and transport toxic nutrients, metals, oil and grease that can harm aquatic life and habitat.

Erosion control is necessary for maintaining infrastructure such as roads and sewers, Gibson said, and for avoiding flooding properties downstream.

The Baldwin & Sons fine will go into the State Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Up and Abatement Account, which pays for remediation projects and providing safe drinking water.

[Orange County Register] – Dana Bartholomew