Ohio farms pay heavy toll for clean water violations

Farms have paid heavy fines for water quality violations in recent months.

Last month, an Ohio pork producer received stiff fines and prison time, and a dairy owner and manure applicator also agreed to a heavy financial toll as a result of water pollution violations.

On Oct. 19, William H. Ringler, the owner and operator of Steamtown Farm, a 2,500-head pig-feeding operation in Ashley (Morrow and Delaware counties), was sentenced in U.S. District Court to three months imprisonment, three months of electronic monitoring, a fine of $51,750 and a restitution payment of $17,250 to Ohio EPA for allowing an unpermitted discharge that killed more than 36,700 fish and other small aquatic animals in June 2007.

Thousands of gallons of liquid whey, a dairy by-product used as a feed supplement for the pigs, leaked twice in eight days from a 26,000-gallon tank on Ringler’s farm, which is recognized as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) and monitored by the state. The whey entered the farm’s drainage system and flowed into the west branch of

Alum Creek where it reduced dissolved oxygen levels.

According to court documents, the first spill occurred on or about June 10, 2007, and the second spill happened eight days later.

“Mr. Ringler was made aware of the whey spills, and that the spills had entered the drainage system at the facility. Mr. Ringler was familiar with the drainage system at the facility, including that the drainage system ultimately flowed into the Creek,” the records state. “As owner and operator of the facility, Mr. Ringler had the authority to take measures to attempt to prevent the spilled whey from entering the Creek. However, Mr. Ringler hoped that the liquid whey would not reach the Creek and did not take appropriate measures to prevent the spilled whey from entering the Creek.”

Ultimately, a heavy rainstorm on June 19 washed the whey into the creek.In June 2010, Ringler pled guilty to one count under the federal Clean Water Act.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Preston Deavers reviewed the plea agreement and accepted the proposed sentence. Ringler has already reimbursed Ohio EPA $6,123 in emergency response costs and paid more than $11,300 to the Ohio Department of

Natural Resources (ODNR) for the cost of the dead fish and aquatic animals and ODNR’s investigation.

Carter M. Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Director Chris Korleski of Ohio EPA and Randall Ashe of U.S. EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement commended the cooperative investigation by special agents from U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, Ohio EPA’s Office of Special Investigations, ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (Environmental Enforcement Unit), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael

Marous who prosecuted the case.

“This case demonstrates that the state of Ohio is concerned about all releases from farming operations that can cause water pollution and fish kills,” Korleski said. “We hope this case and its serious legal consequences will deter other similar incidents and encourage compliance among agricultural facilities.”

But the Ringler facility was not the only Ohio farm hit with fines last month. In late October, the former Assen Dairy LLC in Madison County (now known as the Rising Sun Dairy LLC) and one of its owners, Petrus J. Assen, pleaded guilty to water pollution charges related to two separate incidents involving the improper application of manure, resulting in illegal discharges into Bradford Creek. Beam Custom Applications and its owner, Joseph W. Beam of Clinton County, also pleaded guilty to water pollution charges for their roles in the second incident. The defendants have agreed to pay a total of $27,500 in fines and restitution.

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray’s office prosecutes the reckless application of manure that harms the state’s streams and rivers and filed the charges with the Madison County Municipal Court in cooperation with Ohio EPA, ODNR, ODA and the U.S. EPA

Criminal Investigation Division. In April 2010, Assen Dairy, located near London, hired Beam Custom Applications to land-apply cow manure onto fields either owned or leased by the Assens.

Neither Assen nor Beam adequately inspected the fields prior to applying manure, nor did they take the necessary precautions, such as installing tile plugs, prior to the application in order to prevent the manure discharge from occurring.

Additionally, they did not follow the proper setback requirements, and Beam did not make the necessary adjustments to prevent the manure from ponding in the farm fields. As a result of not following the requirements of the dairy’s permit and proper application procedures, manure entered the field tiles, which drained to the ditch and creek, degrading the quality of the stream and affecting the aquatic life.

Assen Dairy pleaded guilty to two counts of water pollution, an unclassified misdemeanor, and Petrus J. Assen pled guilty to one count of the same violation.

In total, Assen and the dairy must pay $15,000 in restitution to Ohio EPA, $3,000 in fines, $2,000 in restitution to the Midwest Environmental Enforcement Association, $250 in court costs and write a letter to be published in a farm journal explaining the importance of proper agricultural management.

Beam Custom Applications and Joseph W. Beam, of Wilmington, each pleaded guilty to one count of water pollution. Beam was sentenced to pay $1,000 in fines, $1,000 restitution to the Northeast Environmental Enforcement Project (NEEP) and $1,000 to Ohio EPA. The company was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine, $1,000 to NEEP and $2,500 to Ohio EPA.

In the pleas reached earlier this year for the first incident at the Assen Dairy, John Davisson and his company, Site-n-Pipe in Marysville, were sentenced to a total of $2,500 in restitution to Ohio EPA and $500 in fines for applying 170,000 gallons of liquid manure onto an Assen field that traveled through field tiles and into the Madden-Higgins Ditch. Davisson and Assen did not plug the field tiles, follow setback requirements or till the soilcracked field before the liquid manure was applied, in violation of the dairy’s permit and proper application procedures.

ODA reminds agricultural producers and manure applicators that incidents like these can be prevented when they learn about rules and best management practices, and use common sense. Technical and financial assistance is available from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Ohio State University Extension Service and the ODA Livestock Environmental Permitting Program

(LEPP). For more information, contact ODA LEPP at 614-387-0470 or lepp@agri.ohio.gov or a local soil and water conservation district. To report a spill, contact the 24-hour Ohio EPA hotline at 800-282-9378.

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