Illegal pollution by hog farm leads to wetlands preservation money
Posted July 25, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. — Restitution paid by a North Carolina hog farm operator convicted of illegally dumping waste into a Columbus County creek will be used to buy and preserve wetlands in southeast North Carolina.
Clarkton-based Freedman Farms Inc. was found guilty in February of dumping 324,000 gallons of untreated hog waste into Browder's Branch, a tributary to the Waccamaw River, in December 2007. William "Barry" Freedman, who operates the 4,800-hog farm, pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act.
"We're talking about hog waste – feces, urine – going directly into a waterway," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Environmental crews were able to recover only 169,000 gallons of waste from Browder's Branch and surrounding waterways, Moreno said.
"The rest of that is in the environment, and that is significant," she said.
Officials said the pollution could have tainted groundwater and drinking water in the region and threatened area wildlife.
Senior U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan ordered Freedman Farms to pay $1 million in restitution – $200,000 a year for five years – and fined the company another $500,000.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker said Wednesday that all of the restitution will go to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust for preservation efforts.
Camilla Herlevich, executive director of the land trust, called the Waccamaw River "unique and wild."
"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," Herlevich said in a statement. "We look forward to using these funds for conservation projects in a river system that is one of our top conservation priorities."
Flanagan also directed $75,000 of the $500,000 fine to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network, which will train law enforcement officers across eastern North Carolina to investigate environmental crimes.
Freedman was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement in the case.