Buttermilk Plant Settles Pollution Allegations in Nebraska

The former owner of a butter and buttermilk production facility in West Point, Neb., has agreed to pay $350,000 in civil penalties to the federal government and the State of Nebraska to settle allegations that the company violated the Clean Water Act by illegally discharging pollutants into the City of West Point's wastewater treatment system resulting in illegal discharges to the Elkhorn River.

Mark J. Peckham, of Sheridan, Wyo., and his company, Peckham Inc., are the last two of five defendants to settle claims made in a civil lawsuit brought by EPA Region 7 in 2008. The other three defendants include the City of West Point, West Point Dairy Products LLC (WPDP), and Wimmers Meat Products Inc. (Wimmers).

The five defendants have now agreed to pay a combined total of $723,000 in civil penalties to the United States and the State of Nebraska to settle allegations from the lawsuit; and spend $130,900 on state supervised supplemental environmental projects.

In 2008, EPA Region 7 filed a complaint in federal court alleging that Peckham, WPDP, and Wimmers illegally discharged pollutants into the City of West Point's water treatment system from the late 1970s through at least December 2006, and that the City of West Point failed to properly develop discharge limits for those businesses, as required by law.

The discharges by the industries overwhelmed the city's treatment plant and resulted in discharges of pollutants to the Elkhorn River that violated the limits established to protect the water quality of the river, EPA said. The Elkhorn River had previously been determined to be an impaired water due to high levels of bacteria.

Peckham's settlement was filed Feb. 16 in U.S. District Court in Omaha, Neb., and requires payment of a total penalty of $350,000, to be divided equally between the federal government and the State of Nebraska, a co-plaintiff in the case. The settlements previously filed with the court include an agreement by the City of West Point to pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and to install a wind turbine and solar panels for the West Point Public School; and agreements with Wimmers and WPDP to pay civil penalties of $111,600 and $112,500, respectively. They were also required to contribute to state supplemental environmental projects involving Neligh Park Lake and the Nebraska Attorney General's Environmental Protection Fund.

The Clean Water Act requires municipalities and their industrial dischargers to work together to establish and comply with discharge limits that are designed to protect the nation's waters. EPA officials said they are committed to enforcing these requirements in communities where compliance with the law has not occurred.

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