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DEQ fines Townsend Farms for alleged wastewater discharges

Townsend Farms Inc. of Fairview was among 15 companies fined by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in December 2007 for alleged environmental violations, the DEQ announced Thursday, Jan. 10.

The DEQ issued a $38,817 fine against Townsend Farms Inc. for allegedly releasing berry-processing wastewater from its facility at 22303 N.E. Sandy Blvd. to a tributary of Fairview Creek, a Columbia River tributary, numerous times without a permit. The business, which calls itself the largest grower and processor of red raspberries and strawberries in Oregon, has appealed the penalty, which the DEQ issued Dec. 10.

DEQ officials conducted an inspection of the facility on June 18, 2007, after a Multnomah County vector control worker monitoring for disease-carrying organisms at the site reported discharges to a stormwater detention pond and ditches, according to a DEQ news release. Both DEQ and Multnomah County personnel said they observed additional discharges on four occasions in July, two in August and two more in September.

The Water Pollution Control Facilities permit issued to Townsend Farms permits the facility to use wastewater for irrigation, but prohibits discharge of wastewater to any surface waters. In issuing the penalty, DEQ noted Townsend Farms was penalized for similar permit-violating discharges dating back to 1984, 1987 and 1996.

The 1996 discharge resulted in a large fish kill, likely a result of the excessive nutrient levels in berry-processing wastewater that depletes oxygen in water, harming fish and other aquatic life, the release said. Such wastewater also can register acidity at levels harmful to fish and other aquatic species.

According to the Multnomah County Vector Program, discharges at the Townsend Farms site also created pools that provided habitat for a species of a mosquito found to carry the West Nile Virus.

This has forced the county to apply pesticides more frequently in the area in an effort to suppress the mosquito population and ease the potential public health threat locally, officials said.

Of the $38,817 penalty total, $6,817 represents the economic benefit Townsend Farms obtained by avoiding the costs of properly disposing of its wastewater. Townsend Farms officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

DEQ announced a total of 15 penalties statewide, totaling $391,920 in December 2007. For the entire year, DEQ served 199 penalties statewide, totaling $2,533,954. That's up from a total of 184 penalties totaling $1.57 million in 2006.