HENRY CO., Va. -- The Henry County Public Service Authority (HCPSA) and one of its former managers has pled guilty in federal court in Roanoke, Va. to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Mark L. Nolan, a former plant manager of the Upper Smith River wastewater treatment facility, pled guilty to two felony violations of the CWA and the Henry County Public Service Authority pled guilty to two misdemeanor violations.
The pleas resulted from a two-year investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Attorney's Office in Roanoke, Va., the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
The investigation focused on allegations of Clean Water Act violations including poor solids management, poor operation and maintenance through improper sampling, monitoring and reporting of pollutant discharges, and failure to report violations after they were discovered. HCPSA's actions also violated their state-issued Clean Water Act permits.
"We are pleased with the successful outcome of these prosecutions. The case sends a clear message that government-owned municipal sewage plants must obey the law," said EPA Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe. McCabe also hailed the cooperation of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in investigating and preparing this criminal case,
In November 1998, federal prosecutors filed charges against HCPSA, Nolen and Thomas Clark, Nolen's former supervisor (who served until recently as the manager of the HCPSA's drinking water and sewage treatment division). Mr. Clark, who was charged with two related CWA misdemeanors, did not participate in the recent guilty plea proceedings. His guilty plea will be entered at a later date.
Nolen knowingly permitted solids to accumulate in treatment basins which reduced the capacity of the plant to handle incoming wastewater when it rained. This resulted in solids washing into the Smith River several times between Jan. 1992 and Nov. 1995.
The second count alleges that Nolen instructed HCPSA employees to take multiple monitoring samples from the Piedmont Estates and then report the best results to VADEQ. While the CWA permit for the facility allows multiple sampling, it required that the HCPSA use all sampling results when calculating pollutant concentrations. Nolen's selective use of sampling data hid the fact that the Piedmont Estates lagoon violated its permit limits for 14 months from May 1993 through November 1995.
The HCPSA will pay a $100,000 fine. In addition, HCPSA will spend at least $900,000 on environmental projects during a three-year probationary period to implement an environmental compliance program and hire an environmental professional responsible for compliance at the wastewater and drinking water treatment operations, and to oversee contractors at HCPSA's sewage treatment facilities. HCPSA will also provide a toll-free telephone number so employees and contractors may report suspected environmental noncompliance.
HCPSA faces a statutory maximum penalty of up to $25,000 fine per day of violation or $200,000 per count, whichever is greater; and five years probation per count. Nolen faces a maximum prison term of three years per count, and a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation, or $250,000 per count.
The investigation included reviewing HCPSA records dating back to the early 197Os and interviewing many current and former HCPSA employees since the late 1970s. United States Attorney Robert B. Crouch, Jr. praised the inter-agency cooperation utilizing the investigative resources of FBI agents from Roanoke and EPA agents based in Arlington, Va., and the technical environmental support provided by VADEQ in Richmond and Roanoke,
The Smith River, part of the Roanoke River watershed, flows into Roanoke River which flows into the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In the area of the HCPSA's facilities, the Smith River provides habitat to native trout and other fish species and serves as a source of drinking water.
Prosecution of this case is assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie L.M. Waering and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Marlin Harrell, a lawyer with the Environmental Protection Agency's Region III office in Philadelphia.
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