Ohio plans to seize assets of egg farm


NEWARK, Ohio — Just in case Buckeye Egg has hatched any plans to abandon its mega egg production facilities in Ohio, the Ohio attorney general’s office has asked the local court to seize the Ohio assets of both the company and its principal owner.

The attorney general’s office filed a motion June 19, 2000, with the Licking County Court of Common Pleas asking the court to attach on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency:

— All assets and real property in Ohio owned by Anton Pohlmann;

— Pohlmann’s federal income tax refund;

— All assets of the Buckeye Egg Farm corporation.

This latest development in the saga of the State of Ohio vs. Buckeye Egg Farms developed when became clear that the for-sale signs were out.

Concerned that Pohlmann was planning to bail out and leave the state to clean up the nest Buckeye has apparently fouled so immensely, Attorney General Betty Montgomery moved to ensure Ohio would not be left to pay the bill.

Published reports say that Pohlmann confirmed in May he had contracted to sell 4,300 acres of property, including nearly half of the 7,000 acres he owns in Licking County. The sale is still pending.

The state contends the attachment of the assets is necessary because of Buckeye Egg’s history of failing to comply with a court-ordered cleanup at the Buckeye farms, because of the pending sale, and because it has learned that Pohlmann has agreed to transfer proceeds from the sale and a sizable federal income tax refund to the farm’s creditors.

The state contends that absent the attachment of assets, Ohio taxpayers could be left with the expensive task of dealing with the nuisance and pollution caused by Buckeye Egg with no hope of recovering the cost.

According to lawyers handling the case for the attorney general’s office, Buckeye Egg Farm has contended from the beginning that it does not have the financial resources to comply with OEPA requirements or with court ordered remedial actions.

OEPA has contested that assertion, according to spokesman Tracy Freeman, contending that the rents Buckeye receives from the land it owns in four counties is sufficient to cover the costs.

“We’re only asking them to comply with the law,” Freeman said.Expedited hearing.

Following the state’s motion, Buckeye Egg Farm lawyers filed a petition for an expedited hearing, which Ohio lawyers have no intention of contesting. No date has been set for that hearing.

The move to attach Buckeye assets is in connection with the 27-count lawsuit the attorney general office filed last December on behalf of OEPA to force Buckeye Egg Farm to stop violating state environmental laws, and to force the company to correct all past contaminations and nuisances.

Environmental violations alleged in the suit included open dumping of animal waste; open dumping of solid waste; open burning; contamination of several Ohio waterways with chicken manure, fertilizer, and water used to wash eggs; unlicensed construction of a public water system, and the failure to property maintain and monitor that water system; and with the creation and maintenance of a statutory nuisance.

The nuisance complaints arose out of the substantial fly and beetle infestations that have resulted from Buckeye spreading its manure on farmland it owns in Licking, Hardin, Wyandot and Marion counties.

Civil penalties for the alleged violations charged in the suit range from $10,000 to $25,000 per violation per day.

In December, after an EPA inspection of Buckeye’s Croton facility revealed continued manure and contaminated stormwater releases into nearby streams, the state sought and received a preliminary injunction against the Croton facility to address immediate environmental problems.

The injunction ordered that Buckeye contain its discharges of contaminated storm water, immediately begin removal of manure from all buildings that pose of threat of release, and submit a monthly written progress report to the Ohio EPA.

Then in February the state got another preliminary injunction requiring Buckeye to take steps to remedy the severe fly infestation caused by conditions at its pullet facility in Goshen in Hardin County.

The court gave Buckeye Eggs 90 days to solve the problem.

Since then the state has requested the court on three occasions to find Buckeye Eggs in contempt of the court, and impose additional fines of thousands of dollars a day.

In June, the attorney general’s office filed a fourth contempt motion, alleging that the Croton facility has continued to release contaminated storm water, has done nothing to prevent such a release, has failed to remove manure from its barns, has constructed a power-wash system without obtaining the proper permit, and has failed to report manure releases.

The lawsuit is still scheduled to go to court Oct. 2, and in preparation for that hearing the state has also asked the court to issue a partial summary judgment on those counts that it contends cannot be disputed.

This includes:

— 9,647 days of violation of not having a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit at the Croton and Marseilles facilities;

— 21 days of discharging and land applying egg wash wastewater from the Mt. Victory and Croton facilities in violation of the conditions of the Permits to Install;

— The April 1999 liquid fertilizer discharge from the Croton facility that killed fish for 13 miles of Raccoon Creek and an unnamed tributary; and

— 7 days of discharges in May, June, and August last year on untreated sewage and egg wash wastewater from an unauthorized pipe at the Croton facility.

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