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N.C. dairy farm fined $80,000 for polluting river

One of North Carolina’s largest dairy farms has agreed to pay an $80,000 fine for letting thousands of gallons of cow manure spill into the French Broad River.

Tap Root Dairy LLC of Fletcher, near Asheville, and an owner, William Franklin Johnston, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Asheville to violating the Clean Water Act.

The French Broad supplies water to more than 1 million people and is heavily used by swimmers and kayakers. Last year the state listed the section on which Tap Root is located as impaired by fecal coliform bacteria.

The farm maintains several hundred cows, said U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins. Beginning in 2009, Tompkins’ office said, Johnston let his certification as operator in charge of the farm’s animal waste management system lapse.

Between early September and early December 2012, the office said, Tap Root failed to check the levels of waste held in open lagoons. On Dec. 4, 2012, 11,000 gallons of waste spilled into the French Broad.

In pleading guilty, Tap Root agreed to pay an $80,000 fine, drop appeals of a related $13,507 state fine, serve four years’ probation and craft a compliance plan.

Johnston has agreed to pay an additional $15,000 fine and, at sentencing, faces up to one year in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and the State Bureau of Investigation’s Diversion and Environmental Crimes Unit investigated.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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