By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
JEROME, Idaho -- Jerome Cheese Co. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement in a civil lawsuit brought by EPA in 2011 alleging the company violated the Clean Water Act.
The alleged violations consist primarily of discharges of phosphorous into an irrigation system canal above the cheese company's permitted limit under its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, according to court papers.
Davisco Foods International, owner of Jerome Cheese, doesn't admit any liability or that EPA's allegations are factual but has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $304,000 plus interest accruing from Nov. , 2012.
Jon Davis, Davisco's CEO, declined comment, but the company did release a statement saying it agreed to the settlement in order to avoid endless litigation costs.
"There was no harm to the environment, in fact the water discharged to the canal system was of higher quality than the water already in the canal," Davis said in that statement.
"We look forward to moving on and concentrating on more productive activities. We will continue to be good stewards of the environment," he stated.
EPA's complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise on Sept. 30, 2011, alleges Jerome Cheese illegally dumped wastewater, exceeding permitted limits of phosphorus and ammonia, into Lateral 12, which flows into the Snake River. It alleges discharge violations occurred between July 2006 and August 2010.
EPA also alleges Jerome Cheese failed to sample its effluent, failed to notify EPA of the discharges and failed to submit an Annual Water Quality Monitoring Summary Report for 2007 and 2008.
A call to the U.S. Attorney handling the case has not yet been returned, but EPA issued the following statement:
"EPA's settlement with Jerome Cheese resolves numerous violations of the company's NPDES permit from 2006 to 2010. ... . We believe this is a fair settlement with the company, which has been complying with their permit since 2010. ... ."
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Jerome Cheese contended the civil suit was a result of EPA's own errors and flawed discharge permit and centered on small amounts of phosphorous the company discharges into the drainage ditch.
The amount discharge above the permitted level averaged 1.192 pounds per day over the period of alleged violations, according to court papers.