ASHEVILLE – An owner of a local cattle farm pleaded guilty to one count of criminal violation of the Clean Water Act in November.
Michael Crowell, 65, who owns Crowell Farms, Inc., admitted in a November federal court hearing that he installed bypasses at his farm, which discharged liquid animal waste, such as cow feces, into a tributary of the French Broad River.
This occurred around November 2015 through December 2015, according to court documents filed in the case.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Resources cited Crowell Farms in a Dec. 30, 2015 letter on violations of discharge without a valid permit, water quality standards and permit conditions.
An investigation found a pipe from Crowell Farms on Pond Road was discharging animal waste that was then flowing directly into the creek.
Crowell also said he had trouble managing Crowell Farms’ waste management system and that he had installed the bypasses himself at the November hearing. Filed documents show Crowell previously told inspectors he was aware that he had done “the wrong thing.”
Crowell Farms did not have a permit to discharge liquid waste to waters and it is only permitted to discharge it to an on-site land application system. State inspectors further discovered that Crowell Farms did not own the proper land application equipment.
He was ordered to serve six months of house arrest during his three-year term of probation and pay $10,000 in fines on Thursday, according to Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Crowell Farms was also ordered to pay an additional $40,000 in fines, offset by any fines paid to the State of North Carolina, and to serve a three-year term of probation during which it will have to abide by an environmental compliance program, she said in a news release Thursday.
Crowell Farms, located off Pond Road near the Enka-Candler community, maintains more than 150 cows and manages more than 200 acres of agriculture fields, according to court documents. As a result, Crowell Farms disposes of thousands of pounds of solid and liquid animal waste annually.
This waste is considered a pollutant under the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law enacted to prevent, reduce and eliminate pollution, and to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological quality of the nation’s waters for the protection and propagation of fish and aquatic life and wildlife, for recreational purposes, and for the use of such waters for public drinking water, agricultural and industrial purposes.
The French Broad River supplies drinking water to more than one million people and is frequently used for recreational water activities, such as swimming and kayaking. It is also protected because it supports secondary recreation, including fishing, fish consumption and agriculture.
The investigation was led by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and SBI’s DECU, with significant and substantial assistance from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources – Asheville Regional Office. Assistant United States Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte prosecuted the case.
Rose announced Crowell’s sentencing with agent in charge Andy Castro of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), the Atlanta Area Office and John Keane, acting special agent in charge of the State Bureau of Investigations’ Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit (SBI/ DECU).
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