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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Asheville Area Cattle Farm And Owner Plead Guilty To Clean Water Act Violation For Discharging Cow Feces Into French Broad River

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Crowell Farms, Inc. located in Asheville, and its owner pleaded guilty in federal court today to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.

U.S. Attorney Rose is joined in making today’s announcement by Special Agent in Charge Andy Castro of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), Atlanta Area Office, and Judy Billings, Special Agent in Charge of the State Bureau of Investigations’ Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit (SBI/ DECU).

A criminal bill of information filed in U.S. District Court on October 4, 2016, charged Crowell Farms, Inc. (Crowell Farms) and Michael Alexander Crowell, 65, of Asheville, with one count of violation of the Clean Water Act, in connection with the discharging of cow feces into the French Broad River.  According to filed documents and statements made in court, Crowell Farms is in the beef cattle farming business maintaining more than 150 cows and manages many acres of agricultural fields.  In the annual course of its operations, Crowell Farms disposes of thousands of pounds of solid and liquid animal waste, which are considered pollutants under the Clean Water Act.  Michael Crowell is the Operator Responsible-in-Charge (ORC) for the permitted waste disposal system at Crowell Farms.  As the ORC, Michael Crowell is responsible for ensuring that animal waste is properly disposed into the farm’s waste management system, namely in solids waste lagoons.

Michael Crowell admitted in court today that from in or about November 2015 through at least December 2015, he had installed bypasses at the farm’s waste lagoons that were discharging liquid animal waste into a tributary of the French Broad River.  Michael Crowell also admitted that he had trouble managing Crowell Farms’ waste management system and that he had installed the bypasses himself.  Filed documents show that Michael Crowell previously told inspectors he was aware that he had done “the wrong thing.”  Crowell Farms does not have a permit to discharge liquid waste to waters and it is only permitted to discharge it to an on-site land application system.  State inspectors further discovered that Crowell Farms does not own the proper land application equipment.

In addition to pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, Crowell Farms has also agreed:  1) to pay a fine of $40,000 (reduced by the $27,000 fine paid to the State of North Carolina), which will be directed to entities that safeguard the French Broad River and other environmental concerns in the Southeast; 2) to serve a probationary term of three years during which regulators and investigators can inspect their records and facilities without notice and without a warrant; and 3) to design and implement a compliance plan subject to approval by the EPA.  At sentencing, Michael Crowell faces a maximum prison term of three years and an additional fine of $5,000 to $50,000.  A sentencing date has not been set yet.

The Clean Water Act is a federal law enacted to prevent, reduce and eliminate pollution, and to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological quality of the Nation’s waters for the protection and propagation of fish and aquatic life and wildlife, for recreational purposes, and for the use of such waters for public drinking water, agricultural, and industrial purposes.  The French Broad River supplies drinking water to more than one million people and is frequently used for recreational water activities, such as swimming and kayaking.  It is also protected because it supports secondary recreation, including fishing, fish consumption, and agriculture.

   The investigation was led by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and SBI’s DECU. Assistant United States Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte is prosecuting the case.


Updated November 9, 2016