WRIGHTSVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association say they have come to an agreement to settle a federal lawsuit under the Clean Water Act against Keystone Protein Company.

This suit has been pending since 2019 before U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson in Harrisburg.

Keystone Protein operates its poultry rendering plant in Fredericksburg, Pa, and discharge their wastewater into a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The suit alleged that starting in 2014, Keystone discharged excessive amounts of total nitrogen, which violates limits of the Clean Water Act permit.

These violations continued on until 2020 when Keystone upgraded the wastewater treatment facility at the rendering plant. During this time, Keystone discharged more than 180,000 pounds of nitrogen illegally, according to the Riverkeeper Association.

This agreement will include $1 million of funding for the restoration and remediation of Pennsylvania streams, as follows:

  • $238,800 to the Doc Fritchey Chapter of Trout Unlimited for the full cost of the Hammer Creek Headwaters Alternate Restoration Plan. 
  • $446,300 to the Watershed Alliance of York for the partial cost of the Muddy Creek Watershed Project. 
  • $75,000 to the Conservation Foundation of Lancaster County for the full cost of the Simeon Esh Project. 
  • $162,500 to the Conservation Foundation of Lancaster County for one half of the cost of the Donegal Creek Project (the other half will be grant-funded). 
  • $77,400 to Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM) to support community monitoring of water quality and stream health in the Lower Susquehanna River watershed.

The Riverkeeper had great concerns regarding these violations because the Susquehanna River watershed contributes about 46% of the total nitrogen load that flows to the Chesapeake Bay.

According to The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired due to excess nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. Those pollutants can lead to dead zones in the water, where fish and shellfish can’t survive. Algal blooms consume oxygen creating these dead zones, they also block sunlight and smother the aquatic life that lives below.

The EPA set limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment allocations for the Bay and streams that flow into it back in 2010. This includes the Susquehanna River watershed.

In February of 2022, Judge Wilson granted summary judgment in favor of the Riverkeeper on Keystone Protein’s liability for the permit violation. Wilson left the amount of the penalty under the Clean Water Act to be decided by the Court. The Riverkeeper and Keystone Protein resolved all issues with the agreement that was made by the Court on July 21, 2022.

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“Excess nitrogen is a huge problem for waterways in Pennsylvania that flow into the Chesapeake Bay,” said Ted Evgeniadis, of the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeepers. “The EPA took a big step in the right direction by setting pollution limits in 2010 and technology-based limits for rendering plants in 2004. I am very pleased to note that the rendering plant in this lawsuit finally came into compliance with those limits in 2020. I am satisfied that $1 million Keystone Protein is paying as part of the consent decree will fund important stream restoration projects.”

Under this agreement, Keystone Protein is also paying the attorney’s fees of the Riverkeeper’s attorneys.

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