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Farmer sued over spill

July 07, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

The Maryland Department of the Environment has filed a lawsuit against a local farmer, alleging he accidentally pumped about 40,000 gallons of liquid cow manure into Marsh Run last July, killing more than 1,300 fish.

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In the suit filed in Washington County Circuit Court on June 30, the environmental department is seeking $10,000 from Garry B. Shank, operator of Shank Farms at 19413 Longmeadow Road, for alleged violation of the state's water pollution laws, court documents say.

"He was assessed a civil penalty for $5,000 but he ignored it, so now we're suing him," said Quentin Banks, spokesman for the environmental department.

Shank had no comment when reached Monday.

According to the lawsuit, on or about July 7, 1997, the environmental department received a citizen's complaint about dead and dying fish in Marsh Run near Hagerstown.

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Marsh Run is designated by the state as natural trout waters and a public drinking water supply.

The citizen also complained that Marsh Run and the confluence with Antietam Creek had a strong manure smell, extensive thick white foam covering much of the area, and water that appeared dark, the lawsuit says.

An investigation by state environmental department officials found the source of the discharge was Shank Farms, court documents allege.

While pumping manure from the farm's waste lagoon to be spread as fertilizer, Shank left the pumping operation site unsupervised, court documents allege.

When he returned, he found that the discharge pump nozzle had rotated away from the lagoon and approximately 40,000 gallons of liquid manure had discharged into Marsh Run, according to allegations contained in court documents.

The discharge of manure into Marsh Run, which flowed into a portion of Antietam Creek, killed 1,328 fish involving 10 species, according to the lawsuit.

In a July 18, 1997, letter addressed to the environmental department and included as an exhibit with the lawsuit, Shank said that the nozzle on the pump turned toward the creek because a pin that holds it in place was not put in properly.

While investigating the incident, environmental officials determined that the manure collection and storage facilities were not big enough to adequately manage waste from the farm, court documents allege.

Shank previously had been advised by the Washington County Soil Conservation District that the waste lagoon was too small for his herd of about 450 cows, court records state.

Shank stated in the letter that he was working with the county conservation district and the state engineer to make changes, including constructing a berm between the lagoon and Marsh Run.

"With the guidance of the soil conservation office and the state engineer, we feel that these steps will solve the problem," Shank wrote.

A Soil Conservation Water Quality Plan presented to Shank last October by conservation district officials to address the problems was never executed, court documents allege.

"The defendants have not taken any corrective action to prevent the future discharge of animal waste or waste water into Marsh Run," the lawsuit contends.

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