Consulting Engineer Wane Schneiter, NELC Cooperating Attorney Dave Nicholas and NELC Attorney Heather Govern get “suited up” for a tour of the Pilgrim’s Pride Plant in Live Oak, Fla.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—On Nov. 13, on behalf of Environment Florida and the Sierra Club, NELC attorneys garnered what is believed to be the largest citizen suit penalty of its kind in Florida history. This is just one of the notable results of the settlement with chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride, and concludes the federal Clean Water Act lawsuit filed earlier this year for violations occurring at the company’s poultry processing plant in Live Oak, Fla.

The groups filed the lawsuit to stop the discharge of toxic pollutants into the Suwannee River, an “Outstanding Florida Water” that is home to 62 freshwater springs and several state parks. The suit alleged that the company had committed 1,377 days of Clean Water Act violations since 2012, exceeding pollution standards by as much as three times the legal limits.

The settlement terms include:

  • A $1.43 million civil penalty, of which $1.3 million will be allocated to a Sustainable Farming Fund designed to improve soil, groundwater, and surface water quality in the Suwannee Basin, and $130,000 will be allocated to the U.S. Treasury;
  • Significant stipulated penalties for any wastewater violations and for any failures to implement a series of far-reaching environmental upgrades at the plant;
  • A comprehensive study on eliminating the plant’s wastewater discharge to the Suwannee River, including the evaluation of alternative means of disposal like constructed wetlands and land application;

A toxicity identification evaluation to determine the cause(s) of the plant’s toxicity violations;

A water use and reuse study, an analysis of the plant’s water supply system, and various upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

“Our state and federal officials were not doing enough to protect one of Florida’s most beautiful rivers so we stepped in as citizen enforcers of the Clean Water Act,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida, a state affiliate of Environment America. “This great outcome demonstrates the importance of citizen lawsuits.”