The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality has fined the owner of a Jones County swine farm $64,072 after the state agency’s investigation revealed the farm owner illegally discharged nearly 1 million gallons of wastewater from a hog waste lagoon on the farm into a nearby wooded area.
DEQ officials cited Douglas L. Lanier with multiple violations of his farm’s general permit, including a condition not to discharge wastewater from hog waste lagoons into surface water.
“Our investigation revealed this to be an egregious violation of state laws and we will hold the responsible party accountable,” said Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality. “It is totally unacceptable and illegal for someone to knowingly discharge contaminated wastewater that threatened our rivers and streams.”
DEQ officials started investigating the spill of wastewater from Lanier Farms TCB Inc. Aug. 31 after receiving a tip the same day from an anonymous caller. DEQ investigators estimated that 987,440 gallons of wastewater were illegally discharged from the lagoon at the farm near Comfort, based on observations from a DEQ inspection. DEQ determined contaminants from wastewater eventually made its way to an unnamed tributary of the Trent River 1.5 miles away. Testing revealed high levels of wastewater in samples collected in the tributary of the Trent River and on the farm property, but there were no reported impacts to public water supplies.
By state law, animal feeding operations are permitted to use lagoons to store and treat wastewater and then apply the wastewater to farming fields as fertilizer. Such practice is authorized if all permit and animal waste management requirements are satisfied, including ensuring that the sprayfields are not oversaturated and the waste is contained to approved fields and does not reach surface waters.
The amount of the fine is based on factors including the amount of money the operator saved by not complying with state laws, the operator’s failure to report the illegal discharge to DEQ, the amount of wastewater discharged and the extent of the environmental damage. DEQ officials found “severe ponding (of wastewater) and runoff” at the facility. The fine also accounted for the farm operator’s previous environmental violations, including environmental citations DEQ issued in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Lanier has 30 days to respond to DEQ’s fine assessment document by paying the fine, filling an appeal, or requesting a reduction of the penalty amount.