Environmental Enforcement by the U.S. Attorney Vs. Environmental Enforcement by the State of Connecticut
When the U.S. Coast Guard learned that the operations manager for the Fishers Island ferry was allowing his boats' toilets to drain directly into the Sound and the Thames River, they sent the case to the U.S. Attorney. Yesterday the operations manager, Mark Easter, pleaded guilty; he will pay a fine and will go to jail for up to 30 days.
When the Connecticut Attorney General found out that New Haven had spilled 12 million gallons of raw sewage into the Sound last spring, he said the Department of Environmental Protection was investigating and that when the investigation was done he and the department would decide what legal action was appropriate. That was five months ago and nobody has said anything since about the investigation or the legal action, although the DEP's Dwayne Gardiner did say that the 12 million gallon spill really wasn't a big deal because "Mother Nature will take over and correct the problem."
Could it be that the current federal government takes environmental enforcement more seriously than the state of Connecticut?
Here's how the New London Day explained the Fisher's Island case:
The sewage should have been kept in holding tanks, pumped out periodically by tanker trucks and brought to a treatment facility. Coast Guard investigators, however, found during an unannounced inspection on July 13, 2004, that the tanks had only been pumped out a total of seven times between January 1999 and July 2004, and that the discharge valves on the tanks were consistently left in an open position so that the effluent would flow directly into the river or sound.
Pump-outs should have been occurring about twice a week, Coast Guard investigators determined. According to court documents, Easter had been directing ferry crew members to close and lock the valves just before Coast Guard inspectors arrived for routine, announced inspections, and instructed that they be reopened afterwards.
The case against Easter was brought by Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Calling it a “crime against the environment,” O'Connor said it was impossible to accurately quantify how much sewage from the ferries polluted the river and the sound, but that the amount is significant. The ferries make about 20 trips per day during the summer between the island and the ferry terminal in downtown New London, and about four trips per day during the rest of the year. The 132-foot Munnatawket can carry up to 150 passengers, while the 183-foot Race Point can carry up to 200 people. Both also carry vehicles.
... O'Connor said after the court proceeding Friday that evidence found by the Coast Guard indicates that the ferries have been systematically dumping raw sewage overboard for many years, but because of a statute of limitations charges cannot be brought over violations that occurred more than five years ago.
The ferry is owned and operated by the town of Southold, on Long Island. No one from the town would speak to the Day reporter. One wonders of town officials are culpable because they should have been keeping track of pump-out payments, or the lack thereof.
The Day went on to report:
As part of the plea agreement, Easter faces up to 30 days in prison as well as fines. The amount will be determined after court officials review Easter's personal finances, O'Connor said. By law, he can be fined up to $25,000 per day for each violation. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.
O'Connor said that while 30 days in prison may seem like a light sentence, receiving any prison time for environmental violations such as these is rare.
“We wanted to make sure there was some prison time,” he said. “We want to get the message out” that environmental crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.