George’s Foods LLC is facing fines for unpermitted runoff from the company’s city feed mill into Blacks Run. The Department of Environmental Quality has proposed a nearly $10,000 penalty. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has proposed fining George’s Foods LLC nearly $10,000 for unpermitted runoff into Blacks Run from the company’s city feed mill.
To prevent any future issues, the company will construct a sediment trap, which could cost upward of $100,000, according to Bob Kenney, vice president of Virginia operations for George’s.
On Aug. 3, Wesley Runion, Harrisonburg’s stream health coordinator, reported a gray, foul-smelling discharge from the mill.
“It was a lot of feed mixed in with the water,” Runion said. “It was just feed they were spraying off of some of their equipment and buildings. … It wasn’t any sewage, but feed has a distinct odor. … It smells really bad if it’s wet or saturated.”
The mill on Kratzer Avenue only produces animal feed.
Poultry feed contains a high amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, both of which add to pollution problems in an already impaired waterway. In an effort to improve Blacks Run’s water quality, DEQ put in place a total maximum daily load, a “pollution diet” meant to reduce the amount of pollutants fed into the stream.
George’s has a permit to discharge stormwater but the runoff mixed with feed was technically industrial wastewater, which is not permitted, explained DEQ enforcement specialist Steven Hetrick.
George’s was aware that feed had gotten into the mill’s runoff, Kenney said, but it was an isolated incident.
The violent windstorm that ripped through the city June 29 blew the top off an elevator, leaving tons of corn and soybeans open to the air. Some of the material, likely corn, was blown onto the roof.
Several weeks later, workers tried to clean off the spill. While they used a makeshift filtering system, much of the feed base ended up in the runoff.
“It wasn’t something intentional,” Kenney said. “They just didn’t realize. I don’t think they ever thought about it reaching Blacks Run.”
While he didn’t know how much feed made its way into the stream, he said it wasn’t a significant amount.
George’s plans to build a sediment trap this spring to filter all stormwater runoff before it heads into the creek.
Of the three remedies for the situation the company discussed, it is the most expensive, Kenney said.
“It’s correcting way more than what the problem was,” he said. “We wanted to try to prevent future problems.”
The DEQ consent order proposing the fine is open for public comment. To see the order, visit www.deq.state.va.us. Click “Programs,” then “Enforcement” and “Public Notices.”
The unpermitted runoff was discovered months after DEQ staff inspected the facility and found a number of issues, according to the consent order.
The company had not completed and documented a site-compliance evaluation or updated the required stormwater prevention plan, for example.
George’s responded to a warning letter from DEQ last spring explaining what was being done to correct those issues.
The spill occurred shortly before DEQ cited the George’s poultry processing plant in Edinburg twice for emitting higher-than-permitted levels of ammonia — and nitrogen, in one case — into Stony Creek.
“The two incidents are completely unrelated,” Kenney said. “We just had two incidents that unfortunately occurred pretty close to the same time.”
In the Valley, Springdale, Ark.-based George’s also operates a poultry processing plant in Harrisonburg, a Broadway hatchery and a truck garage in New Market.