Regulators back up threats with action

HIGHGATE — The owners and operators of a farm in Highgate have been fined $15,750 by the state after manure from their pit overflowed into Saxe Brook, a tributary of the Missisquoi River.

Claude and Alain Fortin lease a farm on Campagna Road from Mark and Jean Gagne, and all four agreed to the payment and to an engineer’s inspection of the manure pit as part of a settlement with the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). ANR was alerted to the spill by Agency of Agriculture staff.

In a written statement, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner David Mears said, “When farmers fail to properly manage their manure to prevent water pollution, they can expect to pay a significant penalty and be ordered to stop the pollution.”

At public meetings on water pollution, Mears has repeatedly said that fines cannot simply be a cost of doing business for violators, but must be high enough to serve as a deterrent.

Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross indicated farmers can expect more collaboration between his agency and DEC. “This case is an example of the type of enforcement collaboration that has been, and will continue to be utilized between the Agency and DEC,” said Ross. “These types of discharges directly to water have a real and lasting impact on the phosphorus loading that must be addressed.”

According to the statement of facts in the assurance of discontinuance (AOD), the legal settlement reached between the state and the Fortins, DEC was alerted to the violation on July 7, 2014 and Chief Environmental Enforcement Officer Sean McVeigh visited the site the next day. He observed manure from the pit overtopping the containment system and flowing into Saxe Brook.

A video of the violation has been made available by ANR online (

The manure pit was surrounded by woody growth and vegetation.

The Fortins reduced the level in the pit to reduce the overflow on July 9, according to the AOD. They also removed the vegetation that had grown up around the pit, ultimately emptying both pits and dry stacking the manure to prevent discharges.

McVeigh also found a large partially burned pile of trash on the property including plastics and carpeting. Vermont law prohibits the burning of trash, which can release cancer-causing chemicals such as dioxins into the environment. The Fortins and Gagnes were required to properly dispose of the waste at a certified facility and provide a copy of the receipt for the disposal to ANR as well as to cease all burning of trash.

The Fortins and Gagnes have until June 15 to provide the state with an engineer’s report on the manure system. Any deficiencies found by the engineer must be corrected by Sept. 15.