WASHINGTON – An Illinois food processing company has agreed to pay a $390,000 civil penalty to the United States to settle allegations that its Baxter Springs, Kan., processing facility overloaded the city’s wastewater treatment system with millions of gallons of industrial wastewater, at times causing pollution along a 22-mile-long section of the Spring River in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.
Orval Kent Food Company Inc., headquartered in Wheeling, Ill., must also spend at least $32,500 on a project to re-stock fish in or near the watershed of the Spring River, under terms of a consent decree lodged today in Kansas City, Kan., by the U.S. Department of Justice. The project was designed in consultation with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
“This settlement is meaningful not only because it helps to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act but also because it addresses the impact that these violations have had on communities along the Spring River, including the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The environmental project to restock fish will help sustain the aquatic life of the river for the enjoyment and use of all.”
“EPA brought this case because Orval Kent’s decisions to overload the local discharge system hurt people all along this important river, which also plays a key part in Shawnee tribal culture,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “The agency negotiated a settlement that targets relief to repair damages Orval Kent caused to the Spring River watershed. It demonstrates that companies can’t ignore their obligations to comply with the law.”
The company, which produces a variety of refrigerated salads and foods, was issued an administrative compliance order by EPA Region 7 in February 2008 after an inspection of the Baxter Springs publicly owned wastewater treatment works found that Orval Kent’s local processing facility was routinely overloading the city’s treatment system. As a result of the overloading, the city was unable to comply with the terms of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
After EPA issued the order to Orval Kent in 2008, the company installed new wastewater treatment equipment and changed its manufacturing processes to reduce waste material contained in the facility’s industrial wastewater.
Discharges from the Baxter Springs treatment system flow into the Spring River, which flows south from the city for about a mile before crossing the state line into northeast Oklahoma, where it continues to flow several miles through tribal lands of the Shawnee Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma.
Residents of Baxter Springs, tribal members and other communities downstream use the Spring River for fishing and recreation. The state of Kansas has designated the river as “exceptional” and containing “special aquatic life,” partly because of its populations of threatened or endangered species. In Oklahoma, the Spring River is designated an “impaired water” because of turbidity and bacteria.
As part of the settlement, Orval Kent must conduct monitoring and reporting of its wastewater discharges to detect trends and help avoid future violations of the Clean Water Act.
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval before it becomes final.