Environmental groups say 10,000-hog farm pollutes waterways

ablythe@newsobserver.comAugust 5, 2012 

In a lawsuit filed in federal district court, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation accuse a Jones County hog farmer of illegally disposing of and discharging animal waste into creeks, rivers, ditches and lands surrounding the farm.

The waterkeepers and environmental activists contend that Taylor Finishing, a hog farm in Trenton, and its owner are violating the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — laws governing water pollution and the disposal of solid waste.

The plaintiffs contend that pollution from the farm is endangering people who fish, swim, boat and live along the Trent and Neuse rivers, miles of waterway that empty into the Pamlico Sound south of New Bern.

The July 27 suit comes several months after the expiration of a legally required notice period, during which the farm and its owner had the opportunity to bring the operation into compliance with federal environmental laws.

It also comes several weeks after Thomas Walker, the top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District for the past year, reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the state’s scenic and natural resources.

The case has been selected for mediation, according to federal court files.

The Neuse River, which rises in the Piedmont and flows through Durham and Raleigh on its way southeast, has been plagued in recent decades with environmental and public-health problems related to municipal and agricultural waste water discharge, storm runoff, and other sources of pollution.

North Carolina, the second-highest hog producing state, has yielded a growing crop of waterkeepers who keep watch over the creeks, streams and rivers in the path of the large-scale farms.

Swine, depending on whether you use the pork industry’s numbers or those of a UNC-Chapel Hill environmental scientist, produce from 2.5 times to 10 times the waste of humans.

Taylor Finishing farm, “a swine concentrated animal feeding operation” owned by Donald Taylor that “confines or stables” approximately 10,200 “feeder-to-finish swine,” changed ownership in 2010, according to the suit. Frederick A. McLawhorn, Justin T. McLawhorn and Aaron McLawhorn owned the operation in North Carolina’s Coastal Plain.

In the lawsuit filed in North Carolina’s federal Eastern District, the plaintiffs contend that analyses of water samples taken from around the Taylor Finishing farm from 2008 to the present reveal noxious cocktails of unacceptably high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and fecal coliform. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has previously issued a violation against the facility.

The plaintiffs contend that troubling discharges have continued despite the change in ownership in 2010.

“The hog farming industry in North Carolina continues to use our waterways and lands as a garbage dump, and the Taylor facility is yet another example of this reckless behavior,” said Gary Grant, director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving North Carolina waterways. “The clear violation of the law and disregard for the local community needs to be addressed, and the lack of any agency action has convinced us that a citizen suit is the only way we can stop this behavior.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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