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Associated Press, Published March 22 2013

Companies sentenced for illegal sewage disposal

FARGO — Two companies previously ordered to pay the state of North Dakota $700,000 for improperly dumping sewage in an oil patch were handed additional fines Friday in federal court.

A judge ordered Hurley Enterprises, based in Fairview, Mont., and MonDak Water and Septic Service, based in Stanley, to each pay $50,000 more in fines as part of a plea agreement with the government.

Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota, said the case is the first felony conviction of its kind in the state and is believed to be the second such federal case in the nation resulting in felony charges.

"We are committed to using all the tools at our disposal as federal prosecutors to protect the water, air and wildlife in western North Dakota," Purdon said.

Thomas Kelly, a Washington D.C. attorney who specializes in environmental cases and is representing both companies, called the agreement "straightforward" and had no further comment.

Court documents show that truck drivers from the two companies admitted to dumping sewage onto the ground without spreading it. Investigators said MonDak discharged the sludge with such force that it dug a more-than-2-foot ditch into a farm field in Williams County, and Hurley dumped waste that into a tributary that flows into the Epping Spring Brook Dam, also in Williams County.

The companies removed the sewage from facilities such as oil well drilling sites, temporary crew housing sites and portable toilets. Dumping human waste from oil rig sites and crew camps on land is a common and legal practice, as long as companies follow federal Clean Water Act regulations such as a requirement that the waste be spread.

Jeffrey Martinez, special agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency's criminal enforcement program in North Dakota, said the conviction should send a message to other companies in the oil patch.

"Illegally discharged sewage can sicken or injure people, fish and wildlife," he said. "Today's sentences show that those who try to save money by ignoring our environmental laws will be held responsible for their actions."

The state had previously fined Hurley $500,000 and MonDak $200,000.

The companies also agreed with the state on a two-year plan to improve sewage disposal practices. Hurley is developing a training program for septic waste haulers. MonDak is developing wastewater treatment lagoons, which will be available to other septic haulers and will reduce the need for land applications.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.