Appeals court rules probation too lenient in environmental case

Appeals court rules probation too lenient in environmental case

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Associated Press Writer

A judge was too lenient in sentencing a construction company employee to three years probation for illegal dredging in North Carolina’s Croatan Sound, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new sentencing for Michael Eugene Hillyer. The court said federal guidelines suggest a sentencing range of 12 to 18 months in prison.

Hillyer managed Balfour Beatty Construction Co.’s construction of a five-mile bridge from Manns Harbor to Manteo. The Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge opened on Aug. 9, 2002.

On the day before the opening, Hillyer ordered employees to illegally dump fill material from the project into wetlands at a nearby marina site. He later ordered the crew to use tugboat propellers to dredge around a trestle that was needed for another project. The illegal "prop dredging" was done at night to try to avoid the state Department of Transportation’s notice.

Under a plea agreement, Hillyer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and a substantive violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act.

Federal sentencing guidelines allow a downward departure for "aberrant behavior" if the crimes did not require substantial planning or continue for a long time, and if the offense marks a deviation from an otherwise law-abiding life. Even if Hillyer met the last criteria, the appeals court said, he failed to meet the first two. (more…)

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.