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Clean Water Act Settlement: ConAgra Agrees to Pay $1 Million Fine, and Make Improvements at Nampa Plant

Release Date: 10/2/1998
Contact Information: Mark Ryan
(208) 378-5768

98-51 - - - - - - - - - - October 1,1998

ConAgra Inc. has agreed to spend more than $3.5 million --$1 million in a cash penalty and the rest for environmental improvements -- to settle a complaint in federal court alleging that ConAgra's Armour Fresh Meats slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Nampa, Idaho, committed more than 600 violations of the Clean Water Act between 1992 and 1996.

The ConAgra settlement is the latest in a series of recent federal Clean Water Act cases involving large animal feedlots and slaughterhouses across the country.

"The settlement means cleaner water and healthier communities for the people who live in and around Nampa, Idaho," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. "Wastewater from animal feedlots and slaughterhouses is a serious environmental concern. Today's announcement sends a message to industry that we will vigorously enforce our nation's clean water laws. We will work tirelessly to protect public health and safety, and hold accountable those who break environmental laws."

Marc Haws, the civil chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise, collaborated with the Department of Justice as local counsel on the case.

"This is a responsible decision by local industry that will be beneficial to the local environment," Haws said. "This is a very good result in a very difficult case."

The announcement of the settlement was made today in Seattle by Chuck Clarke, Northwest regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

By terms of the settlement, ConAgra agreed to take a number of measures, including the following:
  • to stop dumping millions of gallons of partially treated wastewater each year onto nearby cropland.
  • to build new waste storage ponds with liners to replace existing ponds without liners, and
  • to reduce the number of cattle confined in the ConAgra feedlot at the slaughterhouse.

"The settlement will have enormous environmental benefits for Indian Creek and the Boise River downstream," declared Clarke.

EPA is especially concerned about the environmental impact of ConAgra's Nampa operations because shallow groundwater lies beneath the slaughterhouse, the feedlot, the waste storage ponds and the cropland where ConAgra applied partially treated wastewater, Clarke explained. Groundwater in the immediate area flows into Indian Creek, both through the soil and through "french drains" installed by ConAgra to control groundwater elevation.

"If ammonia or other nutrients enter a stream like Indian Creek, the nutrients promote the growth of algae or other vegetation that can deplete the water of oxygen," Clarke said. "Water quality is degraded, and there can be harm to fish and other aquatic life."

If the case had gone to trial, Clarke added, EPA was ready to present evidence that fecal coliform bacteria had been entering the creek from the ConAgra feedlot.

The settlement is contained in a consent decree lodged today in U.S. District Court in Boise. The settlement will bring to an end the litigation that began when the Department of Justice filed a civil complaint on behalf of EPA in March 1996.

Last November, after hearing a motion for summary judgment, the court found that ConAgra -- between 1992 and 1996 --- was liable for 260 violations of effluent limits in the wastewater discharge permit issued to the company's Armour Fresh Meat slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Nampa. The court also found ConAgra liable, during same period, for two unpermitted discharges, 51 failures to perform required monitoring and reporting, and 312 record keeping violations.

Clarke said most of the violations occurred before 1995, the year that ConAgra spent more than $1 million to upgrade its wastewater treatment facilities.

It is expected that ConAgra will spend an additional $1.5 million to build the new lined treatment ponds, and slightly more than $1 million to change its feedlot operations.

Until recently ConAgra operated a feedlot at the slaughterhouse with as many as 1600 animals confined at any one time. Under the terms of the settlement, ConAgra will operate a much smaller feedlot at the slaughterhouse. The new feedlot will have a concrete floor and will confine only the number of cattle that will be slaughtered in a single day.