YAKIMA, Wash. — A community action group and a large Eastern Washington dairy squared off in federal court Tuesday over allegations that the dairy violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.
The case renews a legal attack against a dairy that has been the subject of air and water pollution complaints for years.
The citizen group Community Association for Restoration of the Environment, or CARE, claims Nelson Faria Dairy in Royal City filed to abide by the terms of a deal that was reached with the dairy's previous owners to improve its operations.
CARE initially filed the lawsuit in 2004 against Smith Brothers of Kent, the dairy's previous owners. Nelson Faria purchased the dairy from Smith Brothers in 2006 and was obligated to operate the dairy under the terms of the settlement.
CARE sought to reopen the case last year, and U.S. District Judge Lonny R. Suko ruled in January that the dairy had violated some terms of the agreement. Tuesday's hearing centered on issues that remained under dispute.
Charlie Tebbutt, lawyer for CARE, said the evidence would show that the dairy spilled manure, failed to check the viability of its manure storage ponds and contributed to groundwater contamination in the area.
The dairy also applied excessive amounts of manure "to numerous fields around the dairy, some of which they own and some they don't," he said.
The dairy, which has more than 3,000 cows, consists of four large barns, several lagoons and multiple feedlots.
John Nelson, a Spokane lawyer representing Faria, deferred his opening statement for later in the trial. Another attorney representing Faria with Nelson said they would not comment Tuesday.
The Faria family owns and leases several dairies in New Mexico, Washington and Texas, including a 7,000-cow operation in Dumas, Texas, that employs one of the largest milking facilities in the country.
Nelson Faria testified Tuesday that he purchased the Royal City dairy for $16 million in 2006.
Under the settlement earlier that year with the previous owners, the dairy was required to compost much of its manure, to cover one of the lagoons where the manure is stored, and to reduce odors at a second lagoon.
Suko ruled in January that the dairy had violated several provisions of the consent decree. Faria admitted the dairy stopped using 12 aerators, did not conduct water sampling in 2008, removed a lagoon cover and failed to use and properly maintain the composting system, among other things, according to the ruling.
CARE has filed similar lawsuits against other large Yakima Valley dairies.
Excessive dairy pollution has been largely ignored by the state Department of Ecology, Tebbutt said during a break in court. While the Environmental Protection Agency is looking into it, it has not yet acted, he said.
"If any other industry were doing this, they would not only be found in violation, they would be shut down," he said.
CARE is seeking a five-year extension of the agreement regulating the dairy's operations. That accord expired in 2009 but has been extended pending resolution of the court case.
Gary Christensen, a farmer who grows vegetables, fruit and some grains near the dairy, is a CARE member who sat in on Tuesday's proceedings.
"I want them to resolve their odor issues," he said. "I want them to stop contaminating the groundwater and to operate in a good, business-like manner."