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For ‘egregious’ violations that damaged mountain streams, DEQ fines Bottomley Properties more than $268,000, one of the agency’s largest penalties

Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, also known as “brookies.” They are the official freshwater fish of North Carolina. (Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has fined Bottomley Evergreens & Farms and Bottomley Properties more than $268,000 for water quality violations, one of the largest civil penalties ever assessed by the agency.

While clear-cutting 360 acres of forest for cattle pastures in Alleghany and Surry counties, the companies extensively damaged more than three linear miles of streams, as well as wetlands, according to court records.

Many portions of these waterways were filled with rock, mud and dirt, requiring the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to conduct an emergency fish rescue to save a unique species of mountain trout, known as a brookie, Policy Watch reported earlier this year.

In addition, cattle grazing operations polluted streams with high levels of fecal bacteria, more than six times the state freshwater standard.

In court documents, DEQ described “egregious violations” of the state’s water quality standards. “The violations observed constituted some of the most extensive sedimentation damage to waters the Division of Water Resources staff involved in this matter have ever seen,” the documents read.

DEQ required Bottomley to restore the damaged streams. However, a DEQ spokeswoman said the company has not completed the restoration by the deadlines established in a work plan issued by the agency.

Companies owned by the Bottomley family have a long history of environmental and labor violations. Glade Creek Dairy in Alleghany County, racked up dozens of state environmental citations and more than $15,000 in fines, according to NC Department of Environmental Quality records. In 2014, a Bottomley subsidiary based in Oregon settled two cases with the U.S. Department of Labor for nearly $1 million — without admitting any wrongdoing. That subsidiary has since closed.

In this case, Bottomley Evergreens & Farms and Bottomley Properties can pay the penalty or request a reduction, which would have to be approved by the Environmental Management Commission. The companies can also contest the penalty before an administrative law judge.

Joey Ponzi, attorney for Bottomley, is not in his office this week and could not be reached for comment. [Update: 11 a.m.: Ponzi responded via email and said the company plans to appeal the civil penalty.]

With the exception of DEQ’s $6.8 million fine levied on Duke Energy — later settled for $6 million — the agency has rarely assessed penalties this large. Last year, DEQ fined Chemours $300,000 for air quality violations, as well as another $200,000 for failing to meet the requirements of a consent order related to discharges of PFAS into the Cape Fear River.

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For ‘egregious’ violations that damaged mountain streams, DEQ fines Bottomley Properties more than $268,000, one of the agency’s largest penalties