Ocean Park, Washington oyster processing company WIEGARDT BROTHERS, INC. (WBI) and company President and majority owner FREDERIC “FRITZ” WIEGARDT, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to violating the Clean Water Act, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. The company admits that from at least 2012 to 2014, the company violated its permit to discharge effluent into Willapa Bay. Specifically, the company President knew that the company’s General Manager was not properly performing the required monthly effluent sampling as required by the permit. As part of its guilty plea WIEGARDT BROTHERS, INC. agreed to pay a $100,000 fine, make a $75,000 community service payment, implement an EPA approved environmental management system to insure future compliance, and publish a public apology in the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association’s quarterly newsletter. As part of his plea agreement, Mr. WIEGARDT is jointly responsible for payment of the $100,000 criminal fine and must complete 75 hours of community service. Under the terms of the plea agreements, Magistrate Judge David W. Christel is not bound by the sentencing agreements and is free to impose any sentence allowed by law.
“Protection of our environment is at the heart of Clean Water Act,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “Here, a company that profits from our region’s clean waters failed to take important steps to protect those very resources. These pleas, including the mandated environmental management system, will provide regulatory officials the means to monitor the company’s compliance efforts going forward.”
“America’s environmental laws protect human health by keeping our harbors, bays and waterways from becoming dumping grounds for waste materials,” said Lance Ehrig, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the state of Washington. “The defendants failed to take the necessary steps to verify that wastewater discharges from the production facility did not include pollutants above approved permit limits. Given this failure, it is appropriate that the company pay to improve Willapa Bay, one of the most pristine estuaries in the United States, and implement a compliance plan to help assure this type of criminal violation doesn’t happen again.”
According to the plea agreement the oyster processing company has a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit which requires monthly testing to ensure the wastewater discharged from the plant does not have harmful levels of pollutants such as fecal coliform. The water samples are to be taken from the discharge pipe with the lab analysis and data submitted to the Washington State Department of Ecology. At some point before 2012, WIEGARDT became aware that the general manager at the plant was not taking the samples from the discharge pipe because some of the equipment was not working properly. In 2012, WIEGARDT was informed by the general manager that the samples were being taken from the “bubbler,” a water and air based cleaning system. Sampling from this location is not representative of the facility’s waste stream and is not authorized by the facility’s NPDES permit. Indeed, sampling from the bubbler – the location where shucked oysters are cleaned – failed to account for the vast majority of wastewater components that were discharged from the facility during hours of operation.
After being notified about the improper sampling and reporting, WIEGARDT took no action for more than a year. On August 22, 2014 the company reported the violations of the NPDES permit to the Department of Ecology and has been working with environmental regulators on a remediation plan. Given the company’s practices, regulators were unable to assess whether the violations resulted in any environmental harm.
The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID) and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Oesterle and Special Assistant United States Attorney Karla Perrin.