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Iowa plant to pay $4.1M to settle waste dump case

KEOKUK, Iowa (AP) -- A company that runs a grain processing plant in southeastern Iowa will pay a $4.1 million penalty to settle allegations that it repeatedly dumped industrial waste into the Mississippi River, authorities announced Tuesday.

Roquette America Inc. will also be required to take other steps that could cost more than $17 million to upgrade its sewer and wastewater treatment plant to prevent future discharges from its Keokuk plant into the Mississippi and a nearby creek, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

The company did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement and noted that it cooperated with investigators.

The 42-page consent decree will settle a complaint alleging the company repeatedly violated the Clean Water Act and a permit limiting how much pollution it could release. It will become final after a 30-day public comment period and approval from a judge.

Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Roquette was aware as early as 2008 that its wastewater treatment plant could not handle spills or surges in loading, but allowed industrial waste to be discharged into the waterways rather than taking steps to contain it.

The company committed more than 1,000 permit violations, which continued even after it "was informed on numerous occasions it was violating its state permit and federal law," said Ignacia Moreno, assistant acting attorney general of the Justice Department's environment and natural Resources Division.

"This settlement holds Roquette accountable for its multiple violations of the nation's Clean Water Act and requires sewer improvements, wastewater treatment upgrades, enhanced monitoring and independent compliance audits that will benefit public health and the environment for the people of Iowa for years to come," Moreno said.

EPA regional administrator Karl Brooks said the "magnitude of these violations" warranted the multimillion dollar penalty, calling the Mississippi River a vital waterway used by millions for business, recreation and drinking water.

The Keokuk plant illegally discharged its waste through storm drains on at least 30 occasions, resulting in at least 250,000 gallons being released into the river and Soap Creek, according to the complaint.