WASILLA — Mat-Su Assembly member and home developer Robert Yundt has agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $77,500 and make lakefront repairs as part of a settlement over violations of the Clean Water Act at two properties in Wasilla including his personal residence.
Yundt, who represents Wasilla on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, moved gravel, soil, stabilizing rock known as riprap, and other material into Wasilla Lake at his home to extend the backyard and install a dock without receiving a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agreement states. He also moved material into nearby wetlands at both that property and one on Cottonwood Lake to stabilize the shoreline without permits, it states.
Yundt agreed to pay the fine and make the repairs, including removing the riprap and gravel and adding vegetation at both locations no later than Tuesday, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for Alaska.
All of that work was completed over this summer before the agreement was finalized, Yundt said in an interview this week.
The Clean Water Act blocks pollution in lakes and streams that connect to federally controlled waterways, including Knik Arm. Both Cottonwood and Wasilla lakes connect to Knik Arm via Cottonwood Creek, which runs south through the Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge.
Yundt was an assembly co-sponsor of a change to borough law that would have altered how close to lakes property owners can build. Had it passed, that measure would have eliminated a 75-foot no-construction buffer designed to keep pollution out of waterways, known as a riparian setback, so long as builders received the borough planning department’s approval. It would have also grandfathered into compliance all previous violations of the setback rule.
The assembly opted to instead form a committee to make rule change recommendations.
Yundt and his wife, Trenitie Yundt, co-own Robert Yundt Homes LLC, a home construction company, and Yundt Properties LLC, a property management company, according to a state corporations database.
The consent agreement on the Clean Water Act violations, finalized Sept. 25 by U.S. District Court Judge Joshua Kindred, comes after an initial 2021 agreement between Yundt, his company Robert Yundt Homes LLC and the Justice Department levied a $29,500 fine and ordered repairs at the sites.
But when Yundt did not perform the fixes by an agreed-to date in July of last year, officials filed a second complaint.
Yundt, however, said he did not harm the lakes or wetlands, and only agreed to the fines and repairs as a way to end the dispute.
“I just didn’t want to waste 10 years fighting,” he said during an interview at the Wasilla and Cottonwood Lake properties Thursday. “My time is way more valuable than that.”
The construction he performed involving the lakes is similar to work he’s personally done at other properties across the borough and in Soldotna, as well as other local construction he’s witnessed, Yundt said.
He said he did receive a verbal OK from an Army Corps official at the Cottonwood site. And at the Wasilla Lake property, a duplex where he currently lives, Yundt said he received permits from the borough for waterfront work and from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the dock.
The mistake, he said, was a lack of written permission from the Army Corps of Engineers. Had he done the paperwork with that agency, he said, the plan would have been given the OK, with no edits, fixes or fines.
“I think it’s sad we live in a world where you have to get everything in writing,” he said.
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman John Budnik said in a statement that permitting requirements provide a way for agency officials to make sure they have “appropriately followed” their own regulations and also ensures “that the public is notified of authorized work that may impact wetlands and waterways of the United States.”
Yundt said that his biggest regret is not immediately finding a lawyer to fight the charges, a step he didn’t take until May.
Instead, he signed the initial 2021 consent agreement without hired legal representation, then did not complete the required repairs because he couldn’t find an engineer willing to do it, he said. His repair plans were ultimately submitted to the EPA in late February, about 40 days before the Justice Department filed its second complaint in early April.
“I should have hired the attorney a couple of years ago because I don’t think it would ever even came to this,” he said.
Yundt, who is running unopposed for reelection in November, said he believes his properties are under such scrutiny only because he’s an elected official.
“Why is it any different for somebody who is donating time to their community? Because I think that’s what elected officials do,” he said.
Mat-Su Borough Assembly members receive an annual salary of $13,500, plus mileage and expense reimbursements, according to borough law.