A federal grand jury has indicted a North Carolina marine company and its president for allegedly dumping tons of sandy wastes into the Chesapeake Bay near Tangier Island, instead of pumping the materials onto an eroding beach to restore it.
Nov. 20NORFOLK, Va. A federal grand jury has indicted a North Carolina marine company and its president for allegedly dumping tons of sandy wastes into the Chesapeake Bay near Tangier Island, instead of pumping the materials onto an eroding beach to restore it.
All State Environmental Dredging Inc., of Sneads Ferry, N.C., faces fines as high as $3 million in the criminal case. The owner and president of the firm, Rudy J. Lanier, could be sentenced up to three years in prison and be fined $1.5 million, according to authorities with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Lanier, 54, whose office is located between Wilmington and Morehead City, could not be reached for comment Friday. But his Norfolk-based attorney, Hunter Sims Jr., said Lanier would plead not guilty when arraigned next month.
"It's obviously a little construction dispute" with the Army Corps of Engineers, Sims said, adding that Lanier and his company are "a small business, with just one dredge" and does little business with the federal government.
The Army Corps awarded All State Environmental Dredging a $426,000 contract in August 2000 to deepen ship channels into and out of Tangier Island, a remote fishing village near the Virginia-Maryland border in the middle of the Bay.
According to the six-count indictment returned this week, All State crews were supposed to pipe about 60,000 cubic yards of sandy bottom wastes onto a nearby beach as part of its replenishment, beginning in October 2000. But on Thanksgiving Day that year, the indictment alleges, the dredge pipeline clogged and Lanier ordered workers to uncouple the line and allow the mucky material to flow directly into the Bay ”“ a violation of state and federal environmental permits as well as the Clean Water Act.
The indictment also alleges that Lanier instructed his crews to hide this "short pumping" from corps inspectors and to claim falsely that bad weather had slowed the project.
This way, the company would not lose money for missing a 50-day completion deadline, according to the court document.
Dredging wastes, called spoil, are considered a pollutant even though they largely are a mixture of mud, silt, sand and water. But they also can contain toxic residues that have sunk to the bottom and, if spread thick enough, can smother underwater plants and marine habitat.
In announcing the indictment Thursday, the EPA did not describe any environmental harm from the alleged dumping.
The agency said only that federal inspectors discovered mounds of material near shipping channels, material the dredging was supposed to get rid of in the first place.
The corps got wind of problems from an All State employee who tipped off regulators in a phone call, fearing that he and others would soon be caught and blamed for illegalities, according to the indictment.
Confronted with such allegations, the indictment says, Lanier denied any wrongdoing to a corps official and blamed a "disgruntled employee" for falsely accusing the company.
Sims said there were times when "pipes burst and some of this stuff happened." But the lawyer also said that poor weather played a role in delaying the project and that Lanier was having "difficulties" with some locally hired hands.
Sims did not speculate on why it took four years for prosecutors to bring charges against his client to a grand jury. The EPA said that such cases often take time to make and that the government prefers negotiations to court action.
"But obviously that didn't work in this case," said Roy Seneca , an EPA spokesman in Philadelphia.
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Â© 2004, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.