Conservation Group challenges NC Permit Allowing Harmful Pollution into the Rocky River

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--On behalf of Rocky River Watch, the Southern Environmental Law Center today challenged a state permit to the Town of Siler City for nutrient-laden discharges from the town’s wastewater treatment plant into Loves Creek and the Rocky River in North Carolina’s Office of Administrative Hearings. Nutrient pollution results in algal blooms and fish kills that would prevent residents from safely swimming, boating, and enjoying the Rocky River.

In issuing a permit to Siler City, the state failed to add necessary and long overdue nutrient limits to the permit that would have prevented harmful discharges into Loves Creek and the Rocky River from Siler City’s plant as a result of pollution from Mountaire Farms’ new chicken slaughterhouse in Siler City.  The state permit allows the concentration of harmful nutrient pollution in the wastewater discharge to be at historic highs that previously led the state to declare the Rocky River to be impaired, or too polluted to meet standards under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

“Far from meeting its obligation to protect and restore the Rocky River and clean water, the state abandoned its duty by allowing Mountaire’s harmful pollution to go unchecked,” said Blakely Hildebrand, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “This permit allows nutrient levels to return to historically high and harmful levels, exacerbating an existing pollution problem.”

The Rocky River is located in the Cape Fear River basin, and attracts boaters, swimmers, and fishermen from across the region.  The river is home to the endangered Cape Fear shiner and other fish and aquatic life.  A decade of nutrient pollution has prevented people from boating, swimming, and fishing in the river and has harmed wildlife—including the endangered Cape Fear shiner and other fish and aquatic life--that call the Rocky River home.

“The Rocky River is a special place for the people of Chatham County and the many endangered and unique species that call it home,” said Connie Allred, president of Rocky River Watch. “The river deserves to be protected, and it was the state’s job to protect it.  We are disappointed in the state for approving a permit for the Siler City plant that will make the pollution in the Rocky River even worse and prevent our families, friends and the community from enjoying this special resource.”

The permit allows the nutrient problem in the Rocky River to get worse. Mountaire Farms, one of the largest chicken processing companies in the country, opened a new facility in Siler City and started discharging its nutrient-laden wastewater into the Siler City plant in January 2019.  This multi-billion dollar company failed to design its facility to treat its wastewater for harmful pollutants from its facility, and instead saddled the Town of Siler City with the expensive burden of cleaning up the company’s mess.

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For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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