Today the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the Wright County District Court's ruling and $59,000 civil penalty in an environmental action involving DeCoster Farms. DeCoster Farms had appealed the earlier ruling on both factual and legal grounds.
"We are very pleased with the Court's ruling," said Attorney General Tom Miller. "It upholds the penalty in this case and gives us good case law for the future. This ruling supports Iowa's environmental statutes."
The ruling is the first environmental enforcement action involving DeCoster Farms to make it completely through the legal process. The lawsuit filed by Miller's office in 1996 alleged a variety of water pollution and animal waste control violations at six separate hog facilities in Wright, Hamilton, and Hardin counties in north central Iowa.
Final Court action also means this action can count as a "strike" toward "habitual violator" status for DeCoster Farms. Under Iowa law, habitual violators face enhanced penalties up to $25,000 per day per violation (compared to the normal $5,000 per day per violation), and denial of new DNR permits for five years for confinement feeding operations. Habitual violators must have been the subject of "three strikes" -- three violations referred to the Attorney General for legal action and assessed a civil penalty by a court. There are two other DeCoster Farms appeals pending before the Supreme Court involving five violations referred to the Attorney General for enforcement action.
Among other violations, the State's lawsuit in today's case alleged illegal discharge of hog wastes into "water of the State" at DeCoster's Finishing Unit #3 in Wright County in April, 1995. The suit alleged that on April 27 and 28 DeCoster Farms was disposing of waste from the unit by spray irrigation on adjacent land, when local citizens and a Wright County naturalist observed hog wastes discharging from nearby field tiles into a small stream and then into the Iowa River.
According to the suit, the naturalist contacted the DNR, which conducted its own inspection the same day and observed hog waste coming from the two field tile lines. The waste "was dark, foamy, emitted a strong animal waste odor, and created a scum or foam on the surface of the stream," the suit alleged.