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Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Judge rules for state in farm pollution case

By Nancy Allen
An area judge ruled in favor of the state on 17 of 23 counts in a lawsuit against Stateline Agri alleging illegal manure management, pollution incidents and violations of state permits between 2003 and 2007.
The violations were at the company's farms at 9159 state Route 118, near Ansonia, which holds up to 4,400 hogs, and 1031 state Route 29, Celina, which holds up to 2,400 hogs.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Environmental Protection agency filed the lawsuit in July 2008, and a civil trial was held in December and January in Darke County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Jonathan Hein recently ordered Stateline Agri, whose president is Rick Kremer, to pay court fines totaling $68,900 ($37,000 to Ohio EPA and $31,900 to Ohio Department of Agriculture). Of the total fine, $60,000 will be suspended if Stateline Agri and Kremer fix the issues at the farm and contribute $40,000 to a nonprofit, charitable foundation/endowment in Darke County that promotes agricultural and environmental awareness, water and soil pollution control and water and soil conservation.
The court suspended $60,000 in order to reduce animosity between Kremer and the state, to encourage future cooperation and to ameliorate any suspicion that the state's enforcement is motivated by self-interest in the fines, Hein wrote. After the suspension, the remaining $8,900 ($4,500 to EPA and $4,500 to ODA) are to pay for investigative and prosecution expenses.
If Stateline Agri or Kremer violates the terms within the next two years, the company and Kremer may be subject to paying nearly $20,000 ($12,500 to EPA and $7,450 to ODA) in fines, Hein's decision states.
The state had sought $261,800 in maximum penalties.
Additionally, Hein ordered Neal Kremer (son of Rick Kremer) to pay $4,400 in court fines to EPA and ODA and Richard Fisher to pay $600 in court fines to ODA. Neal Kremer conducted manure distribution, and Fisher was operations manager when the offenses occurred, court documents show.
In his ruling, Hein states the numerous violations by Stateline Agri (also called SLA) were due to ongoing lack of attention to details by Rick Kremer concerning the state permits and Kremer's pursuit to make money. His inattention was not due to lack of knowledge, as he has operated the farm and had been personally involved in various aspects of animal confinement operations for most of his life, Hein said.
Kremer reportedly was "recalcitrant" (stubbornly resistant to authority) with regulators, the decision states.
"Efforts to earn profits in order to maintain SLA's agri-business appear to motivate (Rick Kremer's) lack of regulatory compliance," Hein wrote in his ruling.
His failure to foresee storage capabilities and to plan for proper manure disposal appear to be the primary cause of disposing of manure under the unlawful manner documented in the lawsuit, Hein continued.
Of Kremer's two sons, Neal and Roman, Hein said neither appeared recalcitrant and that "their violations of regulatory mandates were motivated by obedience to their father's ill-advised directions and attitude."
Rick Kremer's attorney, Jack Van Kley of Columbus, said this morning he had not discussed the decision with Kremer and did not know if he intends to appeal. Van Kley said the state's lawsuit was "greatly exaggerated and overblown," noting the state had sought $261,800, but actually received much less than that.
"None of the violations that were found by the court are ongoing," Van Kley said. "There hasn't been a violation of law at those farms for three years, so the state's case is not only exaggerated, it's stale."
However, in March, the Mercer County SWCD office and Ohio EPA investigated an incident involving land applied manure from the Celina facility that had run off into a ditch off the south side of Doner Road, between Wabash Road and state Route 49.
The farm's records indicate the manure had been applied to frozen or snow-covered ground four times in February. The EPA sent Stateline Agri a letter stating the farm could be held liable for further impacts to state waters and noted failure to prevent future incidents could result in escalated enforcement action.
Kevin Elder, executive director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said the state continues to work with Stateline Agri on an application to renew its permit at the Ansonia farm. Elder said he does not expect the recent court decision to slow down the renewal process.
The Ansonia facility is state permitted, the Celina facility is not, based on the amount of hogs at each facility, Elder said. The Ansonia facility was first granted a permit in September 2004 and Stateline Agri submitted a renewal request in March 2009. State-permitted farms are required to reapply every five years.
"It will continue to be inspected at least every six months and if there are any deficiencies we will follow up and re-inspect if needed to ensure compliance," Elder said this morning. "Hopefully we won't have to go back to enforcement actions again."
Elder said Stateline Agri has made improvements in weekly inspections, keeping records of manure application and available manure storage since the state first sued the operation.
Elder said paperwork has been filed with ODA requesting the Ansonia farm's permit be transferred from Rick Kremer to Neal Kremer. Elder said it is his understanding that ownership of the Celina farm is being transferred to Roman Kremer.
Elder said the judge's decision can be appealed, but he has not heard whether Stateline Agri intends to do so.
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