September 4, 2010

Lyman composter gets 50 days in jail

Robert St. Onge ignored repeated court orders to shut down his facility after runoff polluted a stream.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The owner of a composting business in Lyman has been sentenced to jail for continuing to operate after the courts and the Department of Environmental Protection repeatedly ordered him to stop.

click image to enlarge

Robert St. Onge says the Department of Environmental Protection has been inflexible, and he is appealing the court ruling so he can tell his story.

2007 Press Herald file photo

Robert St. Onge, 58, owner of the Winterwood Farm composting facility, was found guilty of contempt of court Aug. 23 in York County Superior Court in connection with his long-running dispute with the DEP over pollution in a nearby stream.

He was sentenced by Justice William Brodrick to six months in jail with all but 50 days suspended. St. Onge is appealing the court ruling. If his appeal is unsuccessful, he will join just a handful of people who have gone to jail for environmental crimes in Maine.

Winterwood Farm was once one of Maine's largest recyclers of lobster shells, cow manure and other organic waste, producing compost that was popular among gardeners.

In October 2005, heavy rains washed nitrogen and other nutrients from St. Onge's composting site into Lords Brook, a tributary of the Kennebunk River. People living downstream complained of offensive odors and a sticky white fungus covering the stream bed. The DEP later linked the problem to Winterwood Farm.

The dispute has involved the Department of Agriculture, the governor's office, and the Legislature's Natural Resources and Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry committees, which tried to find a way to help St. Onge clean up the pollution and keep the operation open.

The DEP said Winterwood didn't have the capability to contain polluted stormwater and was illegally discharging the water into Lords Brook.

Andrew Fisk, director of the DEP's Bureau of Land and Water Quality, said the department tried to enter into a consent agreement with St. Onge but was unsuccessful.

Despite repeated court orders to stop, St. Onge continued to accept waste and operate the composting facility until he was charged this spring with contempt of court.

"He continued to accept waste, including when the DEP was on the site," said Leanne Robbin, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case.

St. Onge could not be reached for comment. He has argued that the DEP has been inflexible by not giving him enough time to fix the problem, and eventually forced the business into bankruptcy.

His lawyer, Walter Smith of Smith Elliott Smith and Garmey in Saco, said St. Onge is appealing the court ruling to get a chance to tell his full story.

Smith said the facility originally was licensed by the DEP as a solid waste facility but St. Onge later surrendered the license to operate as an agricultural entity. Farms are allowed to compost solid waste without a license.

The appeal is expected to go before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court next year.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

 

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