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Live Oak Poultry Producer, Environmental Groups Reach Deal Over Suwannee River Pollution

John Moran
Wastewater pours into the Suwannee River from a Pilgrim's Pride processing plant in Live Oak, Florida

A Live Oak poultry producer and environmental groups have reached a settlement over Suwannee River pollution, avoiding further litigation.

Pilgrim’s Pride processing plant has agreed to pay $1.4 million for violating its own Clean Water Act permit.

A consortium of environmentalists including the Sierra Club and Environment Florida originally sued Pilgrim’s Pride, a Colorado-based poultry producer, for discharging wastewater into the Suwannee for seven years.

“So, the pipe has been discharging liquid effluence into the Suwannee River for a very long time and this is such a great day that that no longer will be happening,” said Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson who is with the Sierra Club.

It’s not illegal for the company to discharge wastewater into the river, but the Live Oak facility’s level of pollution exceeded the limits of its permit.

Under the agreement, the company has to pay the environmental groups just more than $1 million dollars and more than $100,000 in federal fines to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The environmental groups say they’ll use the money to retrofit existing farms to make them more sustainable and help fund newer, more environmentally friendly agricultural operations in the area.

Pilgrim’s Pride also has to conduct a study of its operation, add extra filters to its wastewater treatment plant, and build new wells to hold the clean water it uses for processing. In negotiations, the company said problems with their existing wells allowed for higher levels of nutrients to end up in its wastewater.

Environment Florida’s Jennifer Rubiello said the settlement proves citizens can force compliance with regulations even if they feel their government isn’t.

“The largest citizen suit penalty of its kind in Florida history demonstrates how critical citizens are to moving forward environmental laws and enforcing them,” she said.

Florida had cited the company multiple times over the years, but conservationists argue the enforcement actions weren’t enough.

The company has the right to come up with an alternative to the deal — environmentalists want them to stop discharges altogether — if the state’s Department of Environmental Protection approves it.

Federal Judge Timothy Corrigan has to give his blessing before the deal is finalized.

A call and email to the company was not returned before publishing deadline.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.