East Coast Poultry Production Plant Will Pay Approximately $ 1 Million to Resolve Pollution Problems Lawsuits – Baltimore Sun

Valley Proteins, a Dorchester County poultry production facility with a history of pollution problems, has agreed to pay about $ 1 million to settle lawsuits from environmental groups and the state, officials announced Monday.

The consent decree settlement, which still requires a judge’s approval, includes $ 540,000 in civil penalties that Valley Proteins must pay to the state and $ 160,000 to fund water restoration and water quality monitoring efforts. water. The agreement also requires Valley Proteins to reimburse the state for its past and future inspections of the facility and reimburse environmental nonprofits for legal fees and water sampling efforts.

The facility, which processes chicken carcasses for use in animal feed, drains wastewater into a tributary of the Transquaking River in Linkwood.

Earlier this year, the Maryland Department of the Environment filed a lawsuit against Valley Proteins in a state court, claiming that illegal releases of nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants from the facility went on for nearly 600 days. The facility was cited for unauthorized discharges of chicken parts and sewage, as well as for air pollution violations due to malfunction of odor control equipment. At $ 35,000 a day, the breaches could have reached a total of $ 20 million.

Monday’s settlement agreement not only reduces those fines, but also includes several new requirements for the facility. For example, it must commission a study to determine whether the wastewater it stores in lagoons is releasing contaminants into groundwater. If the leak is confirmed, Valley Proteins must submit a corrective action plan. The company is to commission a similar study to evaluate ways to reduce odors from the facility, a persistent source of frustration for local residents, community groups say.

“This deal and the hefty sanction send a strong message to Valley Proteins and others that they are not free to pollute Maryland’s water and air,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement Monday.

Valley Proteins was acquired in May for $ 1.1 billion by Darling Ingredients, a Texas-based company that operates approximately 250 factories in 17 countries focused on processing meat industry waste.

In a statement, Darling Ingredients spokesperson Jillian Fleming wrote that the company is “committed to continuing to work closely with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to ensure the Linkwood facility is fully compliant with all relevant rules and regulations “.

Three environmental and community groups – the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth and ShoreRivers – also filed a lawsuit against Valley Proteins in a federal pollution violation court, with help from the Chesapeake Legal Alliance. Under the deal, environmental groups will drop the lawsuit after Monday’s consent decree goes into effect. Nonprofits, as parties to the consensus agreement, will be aware of future developments.

In a statement Monday, ShoreRivers and Dorchester Citizens for Planned Growth expressed concern that the consent agreement would not require Valley Proteins to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant. But overall, the deal is a positive step, said Matt Pluta, director of Riverkeeper programs for ShoreRivers.

“I think the result was much stronger because we stepped in and because we were able to prevent any deal between MDE and Valley Proteins,” said Pluta.

Sometimes nonprofit groups have spurred state action against Valley Proteins. After drone footage captured by ShoreRivers showed white matter flowing from a drainpipe at the facility last year, the state sent its inspectors, who issued requirements that forced the facility to close for a period of time.

Approximately $ 135,000 of the new Valley Proteins settlement will go to a Transquaking River Watershed Fund that will be managed by the three environmental groups. Pluta said the groups already have their sights set on using the funds to commission a “temperature and flow” study for the river.

“This will give us an up-to-date insight into what the condition of the Transquaking River is in terms of pollution from nutrient loading, bacteria, and all that stuff,” he said. “And then this will help us inform our defense going forward about how we want Valley Proteins’ permit to be reduced.”

Monday’s settlement agreement does not preclude the state or environmental groups from taking action regarding any violations at Valley Proteins after April 8. The violations continued this summer.

In July, state environmental inspectors visited the facility after about 1,000 gallons of chicken fat spilled from the plant’s broken machinery into a rainwater pond. According to the inspectors’ report, the facility failed to adequately contain the grease runoff and also filled a portion of a wetland to try to retain contaminants, in violation of environmental regulations.

“We were interested in including such violations as part of this agreement and MDE has said that they will prosecute these violations separately,” Pluta said. “And therefore, we are asking MDE to really keep a strong line here and build on what we have done with this agreement.”

In his statement, Fleming said the company is “committed to learning from these incidents and working to prevent future events.”

“As we work hard to prevent spills from occurring, we are ready to respond quickly and effectively,” he wrote.

The Linkwood plant made headlines for the first time after state lawmakers reported $ 13 million in taxpayer funds for wastewater treatment upgrades at the facility despite its pollution problems. They argued that the for-profit company should not be rewarded with extra funding to help improve its discharge, but should be required to clean up its act on its own. Eventually, state officials decided to withdraw the money.

Regardless, the plant is often cited by environmental advocates as a prime example of Maryland’s shortcomings in applying the environment. The plant continues to operate with a water pollution permit that expired in 2006, which was administratively continued by the State Department of the Environment. It is among the numerous so-called “zombie permits” that state lawmakers have been targeting this year for limits with the new legislation.

In a statement Monday, the department said a new permit for Valley Proteins will be issued within 60 days. But a draft of that permit, released for public comment last year, raised concern among local residents and environmental advocates. Among the frustrations was the fact that the permit opens the doors to Valley Proteins to increase the amount of wastewater it discharges each year.

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