On Monday, William B. Freedman, president of North Carolina-based Freedman Farms, Inc. was sentenced in federal court to five years probation and ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines, restitution and community service payments for violating the Clean Water Act. The announcement was released by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The incident dates back to December 2007, when the Columbus County-based farm discharged hog waste from a 4,800-head finishing site directly into the Browder’s Branch, a stream that leads to the Waccamaw River.
Freedman Farms was sentenced to pay a $500,000 criminal fine and $925,000 in restitution. The scope of restitution and compensation for loss, repair or injured resources caused by the discharge will be determined in a judge’s status conference within 30 days. In addition, a $75,000 community service payment will go directly to the Southern Environmental Enforcement Network (SEEN), one of four U.S. regional environmental enforcement associations established to train environmental enforcement professionals. The SEEN payment will be used to fund environmental projects designed to preserve and restore waters in the Eastern District of North Carolina.
William B. Freedman, president of Freedman Farms, Inc. was sentenced to six months in prison, followed by six months of home confinement. Freedman Farms must also implement a comprehensive environmental compliance program and institute an annual training program.
“William Freedman and Freedman Farms will be held accountable for polluting waterways and wetlands in Columbus County and the Waccamaw River watershed,” stated Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Owners and operators of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) must comply with the nation’s Clean Water Act for the protection of America’s streams, wetlands and rivers.”
“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, like Freedman Farms, are an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement priority because manure, if not properly controlled, can contaminate both surface waters and ground waters that may be used as drinking water sources and harm fish and other aquatic species. In this case, hog wastes flowed through sensitive wetlands, posing a risk to water and wildlife. Today's sentences send a clear message to CAFO's and their owners that if you disregard the law, you will be prosecuted,” emphasized Maureen O'Mara, special agent-in-charge of EPA's criminal enforcement office in Atlanta.
Evidence presented to the court documented that Freedman Farms discharged hog waste into a tributary to the Waccamaw River that flows through the White Marsh, a large wetlands complex in the southern tip of the state. The hog waste was supposed to dump directly into two lagoons for treatment and disposal but, instead, was discharged directly into Browder’s Branch.
The case was investigated by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the EPA Science and Ecosystem Support Division. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Gaston B. Williams of the Eastern District of North Carolina and Mary Dee Carraway, trial attorney of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to knowingly or negligently discharge a pollutant into a water of the United States.