New owner of hog farm promises better management

New owner of hog farm promises better management

Publication Date 01/15/2011
Source: Sun Journal (New Bern, NC)
Posted on:

The Jones County hog farm that is the target of a potential lawsuit for alleged pollution of a nearby creek with hog waste has changed hands, and the new owner has also been threatened with the suit.

Donald E. Taylor of Pink Hill said he took over the McLawhorn Livestock Farm Inc. Banks farm about a month before its previous owners were sent a notice about the potential lawsuit that alleges violations of federal clean water and solid waste disposal laws.

Taylor, who is under contract to raise hogs at the facility for the Warsaw-based Murphy-Brown LLC, the livestock production subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc. according to the website, said he knows there were “a lot of problems” with the farm before.

Taylor said he has no plans to get an attorney because there haven’t been any illegal discharges from the farm since he took over. He said he wants to turn the farm around.

“We’re here, we want to turn the farm around, and make it a good farm, and we want to be friendly to our neighbors, and we want them friendly to us,” Taylor said. “We’ve been doing this a long time and I don’t have any (history of) problems.”

Notice of Intent to Sue

Officials from the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation Inc., the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the N.C. Environmental Justice Network sent a notice on Dec. 22 to the farm’s previous owners, Bobbie F. McLawhorn and Frederick A. McLawhorn, according to the notice, announcing their intent to sue the farm in 90 days. Attempts to reach the McLawhorns were unsuccessful throughout this week.

A similar notice of intent was sent on Tuesday to Taylor, after John Bianchi, vice president of Goodman Media and a spokesman for the Waterkeeper Alliance, said officials bringing the suit became aware it had changed hands.

Lower Neuse Riverkeeper Larry Baldwin said the notice gives the farmers 90 days to begin “some kind of response” to the notice. The potential suit, he said, is based on water samples showing there were illegal waste discharges from the farm. Baldwin said hog waste sprayed on the farm’s fields as fertilizer is running off into a stream called Long Branch.

The notices allege there was illegal discharge of pollutants without a permit from the farm into the creek, which feeds into the Trent and Neuse rivers, in violation of the Clean Water Act. They also allege there was illegal treatment, storage, and disposal of solid or hazardous waste in violation of the Solid Waste Disposal Act.

Hannah Connor, staff attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the water sample results show that discharge has continued since ownership of the operation transferred to Taylor.

Some of the samples in the suit date to as far back as Sept. 29, 2008, and others are from as recently as Dec. 2, 2010. She said the water advocacy officials will move forward “as necessary to see that those discharges cease.”

“I don’t know this information for sure, but it almost sounds like McLawhorn has done so much pumping out there that it’s continuing,” Baldwin said of the alleged pollutant discharge. “Mr. Taylor is sort of in a tough position, I understand that, and I sympathize to a degree. Me, I would have walked away from this situation, because it was a train wreck.”

McLawhorn Banks operators

Taylor said the claim in the suit that there was pollution discharged from the fields on Dec. 2 is a “bold-faced lie.” He said that since he took over the farm, the irrigation pump that sprays the waste fertilizer on the fields was only turned on once.

“We did crank it up, and we may have let it run three minutes, which there is no way it could have gotten into the ditch or the stream, and it’s been tore up ever since,” he said. “I’m not getting an attorney, I don’t need one. Because I haven’t discharged any, and I can prove it.”

Taylor said he has previously farmed in Onslow, Jones and Lenoir counties, and has not encountered problems before.

“You have a waste management plan that you have to have when you have an operation like this, and it shows you on the plan, how much nitrogen and stuff you can have for each crop (in the field), and you have to go by that,” he said. “You just don’t go out and randomly pump any time you want to or anywhere you want to.”

David May, regional aquifer protection supervisor for the Washington regional office of the Division of Water Quality, said Taylor has a “good history” with the division.

However, he said the division is looking into potential action for “operators’ certification compliance issues” of the previous operator on record, Justin McLawhorn. He said a meeting will be held later this month to confirm whether or not there was something else the operator could have done to keep the farm in compliance.

“Our impression could be that perhaps there were steps that could have been taken to improve the compliance rate there,” May said.

‘History of violations’

The potential lawsuit also claims there has been a “history of violations” at McLawhorn Banks recorded by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Division of Water Quality.

Keith Larick, supervisor of the division’s animal feeding operations unit, said the farm was assessed a civil penalty of $8,310 in August of 2010 for six different permit violations that stemmed from inspections of the farm that took place in January and March of last year.

Larick said those violations included the application of waste to bare ground where there was no crop to absorb the nutrients, application of wastewater at excessive rates resulting in ponding in the spray fields, and failure to maintain proper lagoon waste levels, and other violations.

He said another notice of violation was issued based on a Nov. 19 inspection that revealed violations including discharge into waters of the state. The officials will continue to investigate to see if enforcement is warranted, he said.

“A person who owned it on the day of that inspection (would be held accountable), which I assume is Mr. McLawhorn,” Larick said. “The fact that the farm has changed hands would not absolve him of any responsibility,” he said.

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