A Las Vegas health department has filed notices of violation against the Seenos alleging the Concord family's Nevada golf course illegally installed septic systems, the latest charge in the developer's checkered environmental past.
Whistleblower Brad Mamer, a former top executive for the Coyote Springs development, claims the company not only installed the unpermitted systems, possibly violating federal water regulations, but also tried to cover up the infraction.
Dennis Campbell, manager of the solid waste management and compliance program for the Southern Nevada Health District, confirmed the action against Coyote Springs Investments LLC but said he could not comment on specifics until after a Jan. 10 hearing.
The Seenos have 30 days to respond to the civil action, Campbell said, and could be fined up to $5,000 for each count.
Seeno spokeswoman Alex Doniach said all permits for Coyote Springs and its affiliates are current and active, and the company plans to contest the notice of violation.
"While the hearing is in January, Coyote Springs is open to reaching a mutually agreeable settlement on this issue before that," she said. "Any time they become aware of problems, they are quick to rectify them."
Albert Seeno Jr. and his brother Tom Seeno bought into the Coyote Springs development, bringing Albert Seeno III into the management team, shortly before the housing market went bust. Along with their partners, the Seenos envisioned a 43,000-acre city about 50 miles north of Las Vegas with golf courses and homes, but a decade after its inception, Coyote Springs largely consists of a single golf course amid the desert.
The stalled development has led to multiple lawsuits involving the Seenos and their partners, with all sides alleging criminal activities.
Septic systems are used when a facility is not plugged into sewer infrastructure and instead linked to a tank, which lets the solids settle and allows the remaining liquid to drain into a leach field.
"The system could fail and cause adverse environmental impacts," Campbell said, explaining why the systems need to be permitted. "Sewage is not something you want to be messing around with."
Pardee Homes, contracted to build the Coyote Springs houses, countersued the Seenos, claiming the septic system waste seeped onto its property.
The health agency was tipped off by Mamer in February. In his lawsuit against the Seenos months later, Mamer claims the district told him that a Seeno attorney had retroactively asked for a permit for three holding tanks using "false or misleading information."
Mamer claims he was told septic tanks were installed to replace the unpermitted septic systems. He called it an "intentional cover-up" and an attempt for the Seenos to plead to a lesser violation.
"We question his credibility," the Seeno spokeswoman said, calling Mamer a "disgruntled former employee."
It's not the Seeno family's first time running afoul of environmental law.
In 2002, the Seenos were fined $1 million for destroying a threatened Red Legged Frog habitat in a Pittsburg development. In 2008, they were fined almost $3 million for streambed alteration, water pollution and waste discharge violations concerning grading of an Antioch subdivision.
As part of the water settlement, a permanent injunction required the Seenos to incorporate a five-year environmental instructional program for all their employees and to avoid new violations of federal water regulations. Mamer claims the unpermitted septic tanks violate that court order.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board fined the Seenos $775,000 in relation to the frog incident and other issues, with one commissioner telling Seeno Jr., who owns casinos in that state, "When you have an action where there is an intentional destroying of habitat for a federally listed endangered species, that, to me, kind of tells me a lot about the person who is standing before me."
Mamer also claimed he advised the Seenos and senior Coyote Springs officials of more than $1.3 million in environmental permit fees owed, in addition to an Endangered Species Act violation related to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit issued in regard to the desert tortoise. Compliance would have cost $125,000 and was never done, he said.
"This decade-long history demonstrates a pattern of knowing and intentional willful disregard for state and federal environmental regulations and laws," Mamer claimed.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.