EUGENE — A Myrtle Point corporation pleaded guilty Wednesday, Oct. 7, to repeatedly discharging milk and other pollutants into the public water treatment facility which caused waste water with elevated e-coli bacteria to enter the South Fork of the Coquille River resulting in a public health advisory, announced U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams.
Valley Crest Foods, Inc., a creamery, pleaded guilty Oct. 7 to four counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act. The owners of the dairy were not named.
“The United States Attorney’s Office takes seriously any business, corporation, or individual that bypasses federal environmental laws to maximize profits,” said Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon in a press release. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute individuals and corporations whose illegal conduct threatens our region’s natural resources and public health.”
“We are all responsible for keeping our communities safe and protecting our natural resources, and you can’t send significant amounts of corrosive wastes down the drain and expect the sewage treatment process to work properly — especially after being told repeatedly that it would not. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible — even criminally responsible where that is warranted — for breaking our environmental laws” said Jessica Taylor, director of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.
According to court documents, in 2017 and 2018, defendant Valley Crest Foods, Inc. was regularly discharging wastewater to the sewer system that caused disruptions at the City of Myrtle Point’s publicly owned treatment works (POTW). These disruptions resulted in the POTW’s inability to effectively process the waste it received from the local community.
Specifically, Valley Crest turns raw milk into finished milk products such as half and half, whole milk (4%), and different percentages thereafter 2%, 1%, and skim (0%). The investigation determined the equipment at the facility would occasionally “back up” or “clog.” When such clogs occurred, employees would drain the milk products from the equipment and then clean the system. During cleaning, the clogs would break free. Clogs based on the investigation, ranged up to several hundred gallons or more at a time. When the clogs were dislodged, a “slug” or “slug load” of milk would flow directly into the sewer system and the sewage treatment plant where it overwhelmed the treatment process.
The defendant was regularly discharging slugs of milk that interfered with the normal disinfectant process, causing the POTW to discharge waste with elevated bacteria (E. coli) levels to the South Fork of the Coquille River, in violation of the City’s Clean Water Act discharge permit. As a result, on several of those occasions, the levels of bacteria were significant enough that it led to public service announcements warning the community to avoid using the river.
On Oct. 7, Valley Crest appeared before Magistrate Judge Mustafa Kasubhai, and entered a plea of guilty to the criminal information charging four counts of violating title 33 of the Clean Water Act. Valley Crest was ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 per count.
The investigation was conducted by EPA special agent Eric Martenson. The case was prosecuted by Pam Paaso, assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon and Karla Gebel Perrin, special assistant United States Attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.