Feds convict House of Raeford on 10 Clean Water Act charges

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 21, 2012 

— A federal jury on Monday convicted North Carolina poultry processor House of Raeford Farms of 10 counts of violating the Clean Water Act.

But the company was found not guilty on four other counts, and the plant manager was cleared of wrong-doing.

The Department of Justice said that the poultry producer allowed employees for 16 months to send untreated wastewater – contaminated with blood, grease and body parts from slaughtered turkeys – directly to the city of Raeford’s wastewater treatment plant.

“Publicly owned wastewater treatment plants must be protected from companies that cut corners by discharging wastewater illegally,” said Maureen O’Mara, a special agent in charge with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Plant manager Gregory Steenblock was acquitted of the 14 charges against him during the trial in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem.

House of Raeford officials said they were pleased that Steenblock was found not guilty. The company also maintained that any wastewater that went into the sewer was effectively treated by the city’s sewage treatment plant.

“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 in a statement.

“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.”

The bypasses and failure to report them violated House of Raeford’s pretreatment permit as well as the city’s sewer use ordinance, the Department of Justice said.

“Many of the bypasses took place while House of Raeford was subject to a consent order with the city that required it to construct a new pretreatment system and comply with all requirements of its pretreatment permit,” a justice department statement said.

“A number of the bypasses were recorded in log books kept by House of Raeford Inc. wastewater operators, and were never revealed to the city.”

The city plant was responsible for treating industrial, commercial and residential wastewater before it was discharged to Rockfish Creek in Hoke County, according to the statement.

House of Raeford faces a maximum fine of $500,000. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 28.

A federal judge had previously dismissed the case because prosecutors failed to expeditiously bring it to trial. But the judge later allowed prosecutors to revive the case.

The new indictment, filed June 26, charged the company with sending contaminated wastewater to a municipal treatment plant in Raeford on 14 occasions from 2005 to August 2006.

A 2008 Observer investigation found the company had masked the extent of workplace injuries. Employees said the company had ignored, intimidated and fired workers who were hurt on the job.

House of Raeford officials said they followed the law.

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