LIVE OAK, Fla. — Pilgrim’s Pride settled a lawsuit that claimed its chicken processing plant was polluting the Suwannee River.
The suit, which was filed in March by Environment Florida and the Sierra Club, was settled Wednesday when Pilgrim’s Pride agreed to pay more than $1.4 million as well as taking steps to eliminate waste and pollution at its Suwannee County plant.
The settlement, which includes a civil penalty of $130,000 to the U.S Department of Treasury in addition to a previously paid penalty of $50,000 to the State of Florida, still has to be approved by the court.
Pilgrim’s also agreed to pay $1.3 million to Stetson University to create The Sustainable Farming Fund, which will be administered by the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at the school.
Penalties for future violations of the settlement will also be paid to that fund. Those penalties start at $2,000.
Pilgrim’s is released from those penalties after 24 months of continuous compliance.
Among the steps Pilgrim’s agreed to initiate to eliminate pollution at the plant include bringing three new wells online within the next 16 months, add a filter to its wastewater treatment plant that will reduce nitrate within the next 24 months, purchase a reverse osmosis unit within 30 days, install and operate a control to prevent too much methane within 120 days and installing a new basin to breakdown the sewage by Dec. 31, 2018.
The processing plant, though, is exempted from those stipulations if the discharge of wastewater into the Suwannee River has been scheduled to be eliminated through an alternative plan approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, prior to those deadlines.
Pilgrim’s also agreed to complete studies in regards to the toxic agents used at the plant and possible alternatives as well as conducting an audit on ways to reduce water use and evaluate alternatives to eliminate the discharge into the river.
As part of the settlement, Pilgrim’s will also pay $295,000 to the National Environmental Law Center to cover attorneys’ fees for the environmental groups.
The lawsuit alleged that the company committed 1,377 days of Clean Water Act violations since 2012. It stated that Pilgrim’s discharged wastewater exceeding pollution standards by as much as triple the legal limits.
The allegations in the lawsuit only addressed discharges that allegedly violated Pilgrim's permit. The permit allows a maximum annual limit of 114,245 pounds of wastewater discharge into the Suwannee River, according to court documents.
The suit alleged the company dumped 379,641 pounds of what the environment group called toxic pollution into the Suwannee River in 2014, citing data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory.