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Press Release

Federal Judge Sentences Asheville Area Cattle Farm And Its Owner For Discharging Cow Feces Into French Broad River In Violation Of the Clean Water Act

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of North Carolina


ASHEVILLE, N.C. – U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger sentenced today Crowell Farms, Inc. (Crowell Farms) located in Asheville, and its owner, Michael Alexander Crowell, 65, also of Asheville, on felony violations of the Clean Water Act, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.


Michael Crowell was ordered to serve six months of house arrest during his three-year term of probation and to pay $10,000 in fines. Crowell Farms was ordered to pay an additional $40,000 in fines, offset by any fines paid to the State of North Carolina, and to serve a three-year term of probation during which it will have to abide by an environmental compliance program.


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


According to court filings and today’s sentencing hearings, Crowell Farms is in the beef cattle farming business, maintaining more than 150 cows and managing more over 200 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. Court records show that 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.


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


In November 2016, Michael Crowell and Crowell Farms pleaded guilty to one count of criminal violation of the Clean Water Act.


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 EPAs Criminal Investigation Division and SBIs DECU, with significant and substantial assistance from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources – Asheville Regional Office. Assistant United States Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorneys Office in Charlotte prosecuted the case.


Updated June 1, 2017