Sentencing ahead in New York Clean Water Act criminal case

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GreenGavel            A Western New York demolition company and two of its project managers face sentencing in federal court for illegal dumping of toxic materials into the Susquehanna River.

Crane-Hogan Structural Systems Inc. of Spencerport, near Rochester, and employees Mark Pullyblank and William Clements pled guilty to Clean Water Act violations for ordering workers to discharge a slurry of industrial waste directly into the river and into the Binghamton-Johnson City sewage treatment facility.

The company hadn’t applied for Clean Water Act permits for two projects and didn’t pretreat the slurry, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Syracuse.

Wastewater from Crane-Hogan’s hydro-demolition process contained concrete residue with highly caustic pH and suspended solids, both of them considered pollutants under federal law. The hydro-demolition process uses large amounts of high-pressure water to remove concrete from structures such as dams, bridges, parking lots and garages before they are resurfaced, the prosecution said.

“This is a company that discharged tens of thousands of gallons of extremely high-pH wastewater every day they were working immediately adjacent to a walleye breeding ground,” said Asst. U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict, who prosecuted the case.

In chemistry, pH is a measure of the strength of alkalinity or acidity of water or other liquids. In this case, some of the discharges were 100,000 times more caustic than neutral, Benedict said.

In addition, he said, “when you discharge cement material, that in and of itself causes problems for wildlife using the river.”

The pollutants washed downstream along the Susquehanna River, “sadly before any cleanup could occur,” he said. “We had literally a cemented riverbank and bottom of the river. The next hard rain raised the water level and washed it out.”

The indictment resulted from an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Pullyblank was the manager for renovation projects at two parking garages where violations took place in 2008 and 2009, and Clements managed one of the projects in 2009, according to the government.

The Susquehanna, which runs through New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland before reaching Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Oceans, “provides drinking water to many thousands of individuals,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Pullyblank, who pled guilty to a felony, faces up to three years in prison and a $700,000 fine. Hogan pled guilty to a misdemeanor and could receive a maximum one-year jail term and $350,000 fine.

Both still work for the company, according to Vice President Chris Bollin.

Bollin declined to answer other questions. Lawyers for Pullyblank, Clements and the company didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

In court, the company admitted committing a felony and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and to be placed on probation for up to five years.

Under the plea bargain, the company must implement an environmental compliance plan and change its practices and politics to reduce the chance of future crimes. Benedict said the U.S. Probation Office will be responsible for ensuring the company follows the compliance plan, which that EPA and U.S. Attorney’s Office will review.

U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy scheduled Jan. 23 for sentencing.

One thought on “Sentencing ahead in New York Clean Water Act criminal case

  1. Protect New York’s Waterways

    In response to your article “Sentencing ahead in New York Clean Water Act criminal case” by Eric Freedman on October 20:

    On the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report from Environment New York, “Waterways Restored,” highlights the success the law has meant for the Hudson River, taking it from a polluter’s stew to a waterway that is now home again to fish, wildlife, and recreational use.

    Portions of the iconic Hudson River once changed color depending on the color of cars being made that day at an auto plant — just one of many sources of industrial pollution of the Hudson. The Clean Water Act empowered local citizens to monitor and take action against industrial polluters lining the Hudson, helping lead to the return of fish and wildlife to the river.

    All of New York’s waters deserve a success story, but right now, a loophole in the Clean Water Act has left more than 55% of New York’s streams, including those that feed into the Hudson River, vulnerable to pollution.

    Thankfully, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed closing this loophole to protect all of the state’s rivers and streams. The agency is taking public comments on its rule until November 14, but polluters like big oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are waging a bitter campaign against it. However, despite this opposition, nearly 740,000 public comments were delivered to EPA officials in Washington, D.C. this week in support of the rule to restore protections to all of our waterways, including more than 35,000 from New Yorkers themselves.

    The Clean Water Act has meant progress for the Hudson River, but its promise isn’t yet fulfilled. That’s why it’s so important for EPA to stand up to the polluters and restore safeguards to all of the rivers and streams that crisscross our state.

    Sarah Vitti
    Environment New York

    Environment New York is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group working to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for the environment.

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