WASHINGTON – A federal jury found House of Raeford Farms, Inc. guilty of 10 counts of knowing violations of the Clean Water Act, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Aug. 20. But the company was found not guilty on four other counts, and the plant manager, Gregory Steenblock, was acquitted of the 14 charges against him.
"House of Raeford Farms is pleased with the jury’s complete exoneration of Gregory Steenblock, of the company’s processing plant in Raeford, NC," the company said in a statement. "We are also pleased that the jury recognized House of Raeford’s innocence of several of the charges levied against the company."
House of Raeford, which operates a poultry slaughter and processing plant in Raeford, NC, was found guilty of allowing plant employees to bypass the facility’s pretreatment system, sending untreated wastewater — containing blood, grease and part of slaughtered turkeys — directly to the city’s wastewater treatment plant without notifying city officials, according to the agency. The jury also found the company failed to prevent plant employees from sending thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into a pretreatment system that lacked the capacity to adequately treat the wastewater before discharge to the city plant.
The DOJ said the bypasses and failure to report them violated House of Raeford’s pretreatment permit and the city of Raeford’s sewer use ordinance. Wastewater operators recorded some of the bypasses in log books but were never revealed to the city, according to DOJ.
“The convictions today demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to prosecuting those who knowingly violate pretreatment permits and the Clean Water Act by releasing untreated and contaminated wastewater to municipal wastewater treatment plants,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The violations here are especially egregious and will not be tolerated.
"The evidence showed that House of Raeford allowed overflows of untreated wastewater to bypass a critical part of their pretreatment system," Moreno added. "Many of these bypasses were not disclosed to the city of Raeford, and placed an additional burden on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.”
The company said it would address the remaining charges in the courts. The company maintains that the city’s water treatment facility effectively treated the wastewater.
"The government repeatedly admitted during the trial that none of the materials it claimed went into the City of Raeford’s sewer system ever reached the environment," the company said. "House of Raeford completed a $1.4 million upgrade to its wastewater pre-treatment system in September 2006 that solved the issues that led to the trial.
“House of Raeford is committed to maintaining a high level of compliance with all environmental regulations through its company-wide environmental policy, which is overseen by a full-time Environmental Manager," the company said.
The company faces a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the offenses, whichever is greater, per count. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 28.