Brandon dairy farmers fined for manure pit overflows

BRANDON — A Rutland Superior Court judge has ordered Brandon dairy farmers William and Robin Hanfield to fix an overflowing manure pit and pay a $24,750 fine for violating Vermont’s water pollution laws and agricultural practice regulations.

Judge Michael J. Harris on June 28 ordered the Hanfields to pay the fine after ruling in April that they were guilty of letting manure-laden water flow from their manure pit into a branch of the Neshobe River three times after being ordered to clean up their operation by the Agency of Natural Resources and the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

According to court documents, the Hanfields on Dec. 17, 2014, petitioned the Agency of Agriculture for permission to spread manure after the winter manure-spreading ban was in place. When an agency representative came to the Wheeler Road farm the next day, the inspector saw manure flowing out of the pit, denied the permit and referred the case to the ANR.

When a state official came to the farm on Dec. 26, that person reported seeing “the flow of manure-laden water from the pit, along the driveway, to a ditch running south along Wheeler Road, into a culvert and into a pasture, where it eventually flowed into an unnamed tributary of the Neshobe River,” according to a complaint filed by the Office of the Attorney General. The overflows were observed by inspectors twice more before Jan. 15, 2015, by which time the manure level in the pit was lowered.

Harris’s ruling also states that a pipe running from the milking house was improperly connected to the manure pit.

The Rutland Superior Court, Civil Division, found the Hanfields liable for three violations of Vermont law — one violation for each of the observed unpermitted discharges — and three separate violations of Vermont’s agricultural regulations relating to the management of waste at the farm.

Following a June 28 hearing, the Hanfields were ordered to certify in writing to the Agency of Agriculture by Nov. 1 for the next three years that they have at least 180 days of capacity in the farm’s manure pit. The court also ordered the Hanfields to hire an outside engineer to work with the Agency of Agriculture and review the manure pit’s construction, use and capacity. Additionally, the Hanfields must limit the use of the pit to on-site generated waste only.

“Vermonters want our rivers, streams and lakes to be clean,” Attorney General William Sorrell said in a July 11 press release. “We know that most farmers want the same and work hard to follow sound agricultural practices. But if a farm fails to follow Vermont’s water quality laws, it will be held accountable. The improper release of farm waste to waters of the state of Vermont will not be tolerated.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren also commented on the outcome of the case.

“Vermonters and tourists alike enjoy swimming, boating and fishing in our waters,” she said in the press release. “We know the challenges these waters face, with harmful algae blooms occurring throughout the summer. That is why Vermont has taken an all-in approach to improving water quality. When bad actors violate water quality laws, Vermonters expect and deserve action.”

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