Manure Spill Investigated By DEP, PFBC
A manure spill earlier this month just south of Mc- Connellsburg Borough remains in the spotlight due to a pending joint investigation by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and officials with the Department of Environmental Protection.
In last week’s edition of The Fulton County News, Conservation District employee Doug Valentine estimated “tens of thousands of gallons” of slurry manure flowed from the farm and into a channel that emptied into Big Cove Creek, thereby polluting waterways and killing a large number of fish. The farm, as well as an additional operation in the Burnt Cabins area, is reportedly rented by brothers Lamar and Glenn Hege.
PFBC Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO) Anthony Quarracino was initially called to the Hege brothers’ farm located in Ayr Township during the late morning hours of November 3 at the request of Fulton County Conservation District officials. Quarracino told the “News” all indications pointed to the manure storage pit on the Hege farm, which he referred to as an “earthen depression,” as the origin of the “moderate pollution.”
Quarracino stated his ongoing investigation took him to the bridge of Back Run Road where he detected a strong odor of manure and found the water to be a dark chocolate-brown color. The officer’s investigation included videos and photographs of the area, a calculation of the stream affected by the spill and a dead-fish count.
Quarracino said while there are several means of determining fish loss, fellow WCO Ted Kane and PFBC Southcentral Region Supervisor Cory Britcher chose to walk a section of stream measuring 0.1 miles. A total of 606 dead fish were accounted for during the dead-fish tally and were categorized for record-keeping purposes by size and type. Most of the fish located were minnows, suckers, carp, various game fish and two rainbow trout.
He added with the spill occurring so late in the year, a large number of trout were not present in the stream. Several hundred trout are typically stocked in that area during the course of a fishing season. Concerns that the manure would wind its way to the delayed harvest area of the Kerper Tract in Big Cove Tannery have been allayed.
In addition to the dead-fish tally, a GPS calculation conducted by the officers revealed 4.48 miles of stream were polluted between the Hege farm and the bridge located near Harr’s Grocery.
Quarracino said the case remains under investigation, and the Heges have been given information on how to rectify the situation and remove some of the existing manure from the pit. While the accidental spill has been recorded by PFBC officials as a “moderate” case of pollution, 90 percent of similar cases investigated by the Commission are settled out of court without the need for criminal charges. Issues taken into account, according to Quarracino, include cooperation and the ability to pay.
In the event the case would be pursued criminally by the PFBC through a breach of Title 30, a misdemeanor three, fines could range from $250 to $5,000. Restitution in the amount of $20 per fish could also be pursued.
Scott Williamson of DEP’s Southcentral Regional Office was unavailable for comment regarding the ongoing investigation. DEP press secretary Teresa Candori, however, spoke very briefly with the “News” on the matter.
Candori stated she was unable to reveal who initially discovered the manure spill and reported the incident to the Fulton County Conservation District on November 3 due to confidentially. She further stated DEP could not provide an estimate on how much manure was discharged, but did categorize it as a “single release of substantial volume.” It is believed by DEP the discharge occurred the same day as it was discovered.
Concerning penalties, Candori said “DEP will not arrive at a penalty amount until the investigation is complete and all associated factors are determined. The PA Clean Streams Law allows a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day, per violation. Factors we can consider under the Clean Streams Law are wilfullness of the violation, damage or injury to waters of the commonwealth or their uses, cost of restoration and other relevant factors.”
As a provision of the Clean Streams Law, Candori concluded the actual landowner can be held liable for violations. DEP is currently evaluating the role of the landowner, but a final determination has not yet been made.