Federal Court Awarding $1 Million to Preserve North Carolina Wetlands
North Carolina’s Waccamaw River watershed will benefit from a $1 million restitution order from a federal court, funding environmental projects to acquire and preserve wetlands in an area damaged by illegal releases of wastewater from a corporate hog farm, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Thomas G. Walker; Director Greg McLeod from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; and Camilla M. Herlevich, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust.
Freedman Farms Inc. was sentenced in February 2012 to five years of probation and ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines, restitution and community service payments for violating the Clean Water Act when it discharged hog waste into a stream that leads to the Waccamaw River. William B. Freedman, president of Freedman Farms, was sentenced to six months in prison to be followed by six months of home confinement. Freedman Farms also is required to implement a comprehensive environmental compliance program and institute an annual training program.
In an order issued on April 19, 2012, the court ordered that the defendants would be responsible for restitution of $1 million in the form of five annual payments starting in January 2013, which the court will direct to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust (NCCLT). The NCCLT plans to use the money to acquire and conserve land along streams in the Waccamaw watershed. The court also directed a $75,000 community service payment to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network, an organization dedicated to environmental law enforcement training and information sharing in the region.
“The resolution of the case against Freedman Farms demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice to enforcing the Clean Water Act to ensure the protection of human health and the environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno. “The court-ordered restitution in this case will conserve wetlands for the benefit of the people of North Carolina. By enforcing the nation’s environmental laws, we will continue to ensure that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) operate without threatening our drinking water, the health of our communities and the environment.”
“This office is committed to doing our part to hold accountable those who commit crimes against our environment, which can cause serious health problems to residents and damage the environment that makes North Carolina such a beautiful place to live and visit,” said U.S. Attorney Walker.
“This case shows what we can accomplish when our SBI agents work closely with their local, state and federal partners to investigate environmental crimes and hold the polluters accountable,” said Director McLeod. “We’ll continue our efforts to fight illegal pollution that damages our water and puts the public’s health at risk.”
“The Waccamaw is unique and wild,” said Director Herlevich of the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. “Its watershed includes some of the most extensive cypress gum swamps in the state, and its headwaters at Lake Waccamaw contain fish that are found nowhere else on Earth. We appreciate the trust of the court and the U. S. Attorney, and we look forward to using these funds for conservation projects in a river system that is one of our top conservation priorities.”
According to evidence presented in court, in December 2007 Freedman Farms discharged hog waste into Browder’s Branch, a tributary to the Waccamaw River that flows through the White Marsh, a large wetlands complex. Freedman Farms, located in Columbus County, N.C., is in the business of raising hogs for market, and this particular farm had some 4,800 hogs. The hog waste was supposed to be directed to two lagoons for treatment and disposal. Instead, hog waste was discharged from Freedman Farms directly into Browder’s Branch.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly or negligently discharge a pollutant into a water of the United States.
The Freedman case was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the EPA Science and Ecosystem Support Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Gaston B. Williams of the Eastern District of North Carolina and Trial Attorney Mary Dee Carraway of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary of saving special lands in eastern North Carolina. The organization has protected nearly 50,000 acres of lands with scenic, recreational, historic and ecological values. North Carolina Coastal Land Trust has saved streams and wetlands that provide clean water, forests that are havens for wildlife, working farms that provide local food and nature parks that everyone can enjoy. More information about the Coastal Land Trust is available at www.coastallandtrust.org.