Groups announce intent to sue PA Fish & Boat Commission’s Bellefonte Fish Hatchery

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State College-area hatchery faces possible lawsuit for discharging pollutants into tributary of Susquehanna River


Today the statewide citizen-based environmental group PennEnvironment and attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) announced their notice of intent to sue the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) for ongoing Clean Water Act violations at the agency’s Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery.

According to the Notice of Intent to sue (NOI), frequent discharges and treatment bypasses of pollutants from the Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery into Spring Creek – a tributary of the Susquehanna River that ultimately flows into the Chesapeake Bay – are not in compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The NOI alleges discharges of nitrogen, as well as other pollutants, above permit limits.  Nitrogen stimulates algae growth and reduces oxygen levels in water that is needed to support fish and other aquatic life.

The PFBC operates the Bellefonte Fish Hatchery, located in Centre County outside of State College.

PFBC has additionally exceeded its permit limits for CBOD5 (Carbonaceous Biochemical Oxygen Demand), Ammonia Nitrogen (NH3–N), and total suspended solids, and periodically bypassed its micro-filter wastewater treatment system.  At the same time, the facility has been operating under an expired—but administratively extended—pollution permit known as a NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination) permit, for a number of years. 

“It’s unacceptable to have this facility, whose mission is to help us enjoy Pennsylvania’s waterways, turn around and pollute them.” stated PennEnvironment Director David Masur.

EIP Attorney Julie Kaplan said: “Today, the PFBC Fish Hatchery in Bellefonte, PA discharges significantly higher amounts of nitrogen than it did in 2009, when it merged its two outfalls into one after adding a micro-filter treatment system for its wastewater.  The hatchery’s illegal discharges add to the overload of nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay, and make it harder to achieve the Bay cleanup goals that EPA, Pennsylvania, and other states in the region have agreed to meet over the next decade.”

“The Susquehanna River is one of Pennsylvania’s most iconic waterways, and the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure,” noted PennEnvironment Director David Masur.

EIP and PennEnvironment hope that their action will prompt the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP) to issue a renewed permit to the Bellefonte with more protective pollution limits and provide the funding support needed to assure the fishery complies with those permit terms. 

Prior to filing the Clean Water Act case, plaintiffs are required to first submit a 60-day notice letter of intent to sue to the facility in question and state and federal environmental regulators. If action hasn’t been taken to resolve the problem over those 60 days, PennEnvironment and EIP may move forward with the litigation.

PennEnvironment is represented in the case by attorneys from Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Harrisburg-based law firm Costopoulos, Foster & Fields.   

“Fortunately, the authors of the Clean Water Act had the foresight to allow citizens to take legal action against polluters when state and federal officials are unable—or unwilling—to protect the quality of the waterways that we love,” said Masur. “When there is no other avenue, this is a crucial tool for ensuring compliance with one of our cornerstone environmental laws.”

To see the full text of the NOI filing, go to