Fish waste from one of West Virginia’s trout hatcheries could end up costing the state Division of Natural Resources more than $92,000 in penalties.
Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection have cited DNR officials for waste problems at the Reeds Creek Hatchery in Pendleton County. DNR officials also were cited for the lack of a current pollution-discharge permit at the agency’s Edray Hatchery in Pocahontas County.
Mike Shingleton, head of coldwater fisheries for the DNR, said his agency was notified in early February that the Reeds Creek facility was violating its pollution-discharge permit by allowing too much fish waste to escape into the waters of its namesake stream.
Notices of violation from DEP inspectors spelled out repeated violations of several state laws and regulations over a two-year span, from Jan. 27, 2012 through Jan. 27, 2014. Most of the violations involved an accumulation of fish waste sludge on the bottom and banks of Reeds Creek.
According to the documents, inspectors observed 16 minor violations, 17 moderate violations and five major violations of the state’s water-quality standards. The major violations were for high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, nitrogen and suspended solids.
The worst of the violations included fecal coliform levels at 6.5 times the allowable limit, nitrogen levels at 46 times the allowable limit and suspended solids at nearly 6.5 times the allowable limit.
DEP officials sent a consent order to the DNR outlining the violations, ordering corrective action and asking for $92,270 in “civil administrative penalties.”
Kelley Gillenwater, communications director for the DEP, explained the consent-order process:
“When consent orders are issued, our representatives sit down with the representatives of the party found to be in violation and reach a settlement on the final level of fines and penalties. After the parties reach an agreement, the results are put out for public comment,” she said
Gillenwater added that the consent order issued to the DNR “is not a final document.”
“At this time, no fines have been levied or collected,” she explained. “We have reached out to the DNR and are in discussion with them about the violations.”
DNR officials acknowledge that the violations occurred, but said measures to correct them were already underway when the violation notices were issued.
“We’ve known we had a problem at Reeds Creek for quite a while,” said Curtis Taylor, chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Section. “It’s one of our older hatcheries, and when it was built no one thought of fish waste as a pollutant. Land wasn’t purchased to treat water to the levels it should be treated today.”
Shingleton, whose duties put him in charge of the state’s trout hatcheries, said hatchery technicians came up with a method that worked for years, and might still be working had it not been for circumstances that prevented it from being used again.
“Over the years, we’ve pumped waste into a half-acre pond, allowed the waste to settle onto the pond’s bottom, and periodically came in and dredged the waste out of the pond and trucked it away for disposal,” Shingleton explained. “The last cleanout was in 1997, and the contractor hired to do the work didn’t clean it thoroughly enough.
“We started looking into ways to clean it out again in 2011, using [special filter bags] that would keep the collected sludge from getting into the creek. We tried to purchase pumps and filters to go ahead with that process, but we ran into problems during the purchasing process.”
Shingleton said that during all that time, fish waste continued to accumulate in the settling pond.
“The pond has so many solids in it now that it’s basically a flow-through,” he said. “We know there’s a problem, and we had already signed the papers to get it fixed when we were hit with the notices of violation.”
Shingleton said that at the time the consent order was issued, the DNR had hired a contractor to clean out the pond and filter the accumulated waste.
“The work is due to start July 1,” he said. “On Feb. 26, I showed the DEP inspector the purchase order for that work, and since then I’ve also showed [DEP officials] the invoices from our attempts to purchase the pumps and filters. I made it clear that we had made — and were continuing to make — a good-faith effort to correct the problem, but they went ahead with the consent order.”
The order also charged the DNR for failing to have the required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for its Edray Hatchery in Pocahontas County. Shingleton said the DNR had submitted an application for the permit on July 31, 2007, but subsequently received word that the application hadn’t been properly completed.
“There was something missing from our groundwater protection plan,” he said. “I don’t know what happened after that, whether it got shuffled to the side and forgotten or if I just missed it. We got the application completed and back to them this winter. Apparently they were still working on it when we were informed we were in violation.”
Despite acknowledging the violations, DNR officials consider the $92,270 penalty to be excessive. They take particular issue with a $21,090 assessment for “willfulness and negligence.”
“It just seems odd, when [DEP officials] had information that we were actively working to try to clear things up, that they would go ahead and do that,” Shingleton said.
The DEP’s Gillenwater said the consent order wasn’t yet final, but DNR officials believe it might actually be.
“We received the draft order on April 30, and the original amount of the penalties was $99,300,” Shingleton explained. “After we received the draft, we met with them to show them we had been working on the problem all along. They knocked $7,030 off the total for good faith, but that still leaves us at more than $92,000.”
DNR chief Taylor said it “boggles his mind” that his agency would be “fined to that degree by a sister agency.”
“The hard part is figuring out where that money is going to come from,” he said. “We certainly can’t take it out of federal-aid money; that would be illegal. It probably will have to come out of fishing-license revenue, trout-stamp revenue or the trout-stamp endowment fund. The bottom line is if we have to spend that money, it will represent 50,000 fewer trout we’ll be able to grow for the state’s fishermen.”
Reach John McCoy at email@example.com or 304-348-1231.