The owners of a Brandon dairy farm have been fined nearly $25,000 for environmental violations.
Robin and William Hanfield were ordered to pay after the state found that an overflowed manure pit was sending waste into a nearby body of water in late 2014 and early 2015.
"If a farm fails to follow Vermont's water quality laws, they will be held accountable. The improper release of farm waste into waters of the state of Vermont will not be tolerated," Attorney General William Sorrell said in a news release Monday.
The civil division of Rutland Superior Court found the Hanfields liable for three violations of Vermont law. The court granted the state's motion for default judgment in April because the Hanfields hadn't responded to the complaint, according to court documents. The complaint was filed in October.
The state requires farmers to empty their manure pits each year by Dec. 15 so the manure does not spread into water bodies as the snow melts in the spring.
This case began when the Hanfields asked for a temporary exemption from a winter manure spreading ban, said Kim Greenwood, environmental enforcement director at the Department of Environmental Conservation.
When inspecting the farm to see whether the request should be granted, officials found the manure pit was overflowing, Greenwood said.
Manure-laden water was flowing into a ditch, across a pasture and eventually into a tributary of the Neshobe River, the state said.
The farm was asked many times to stop the overflow, Greenwood said. "It was fairly egregious," she said.
The state issued an emergency order to the Hanfields to ensure the manure did not continue to go into the water. An inspection found the farmers did indeed comply, according to the state's complaint.
In late June the Hanfields were ordered to pay $24,750 and hire an engineer to examine the manure pit. They must follow recommendations that come out of that review.
In the past year, three farms have been fined $20,000 to $40,000 for noncompliance with the state's environmental rules, said Assistant Attorney General Robert F. McDougall.
Collectively, the attorney general's office, the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Agency of Agriculture have cracked down on actions that violate environmental protection laws this year, McDougall said.
Manure in water leads to bacteria and increased phosphorus levels, Greenwood said.
"It should be clear (through this case), when we see a violation, we are not going to give up," Greenwood said.