JEROME • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing a Jerome dairy processor for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act.
The suit does not directly stem from issues Jerome faced with dairy processing waste early this year, but does appear to tie into longer-term problems regarding the city’s sewer system.
In a Sept. 30 complaint filed in federal court, the EPA argues that Jerome Cheese Co. dumped wastewater containing pollutants into an irrigation system that eventually flows into the Snake River. According to the civil complaint, the EPA is accusing the company of dumping phosphorus and ammonia that exceeded permitted amounts.
The EPA says the company violated the permit’s limits for more than 2,900 days from 2006-2010. The penalty could cost the company $37,500 per day for violating the CWA.
Jerome Cheese Co. has not filed its response to the lawsuit in federal court. However, in a statement sent to the Times-News, the company said that the issue comes down to a paperwork conflict.
“The water we discharge is extraordinarily clean. EPA is alleging paperwork violations that resulted from EPA’s own errors and failure to process Jerome Cheese’s wastewater permit application,” said Jon Davis, Jerome Cheese’s chief operations officer.
Davis said that the EPA has known about phosphorus loads and it’s the agency’s fault for issuing an incorrect permit.
“EPA created this problem by giving us the wrong limits in our permit,” he said. “This is not a case about protecting the environment. This is a case about paperwork that EPA incorrectly issued and then failed to fix. EPA’s actions are frustrating to say the least.”
The suit follows problems early this year when the city’s sewer system was overloaded with fluid composed of calcium, proteins and fat — all ingredients of milk products.
In July, the city announced it faced potential fines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was told that more than $3 million of improvements to its wastewater system are necessary.
Beyond identifying the problem as caused by waste from an industrial dairy processor, city officials did not identify the facility at fault earlier this year.
From 2005-2007, and again in 2009, the city wastewater plant often exceeded limits for pollutants such as phosphorus, according to a study performed for the city this year.
City officials are pursuing a judge’s permission to take on long-term debt for the wastewater upgrade work.
Calls to Jerome’s mayor and assistant to the city administrator were not returned Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.