A federal judge has ordered a northwestern Indiana company and its owner to pay $200,000 in fines and restitution for illegally dumping grease into the city of Hammond's sewer system.
U.S. District Judge Philip Simon also sentenced NH Environmental's owner, Ronald Holmes, on Friday to four years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
The Griffith man and his East Chicago company pleaded guilty last year to felony and misdemeanor pollution discharge counts for dumping waste --mostly grease from local restaurants -- into Hammond's sewers, not paying the proper city fees and failing to file monthly reports.
Ironically, NH Environmental, which operates as Tierra Environmental and Industrial Services, specializes in waste hauling and grease trap and sewer cleaning.
Holmes' attorney, Jackie Bennett Jr., argued that his client had thought his company had a valid waste discharge permit because Holmes had previously leased the building to another company and allowed that company to use his permit.
In fact, the permit had expired and the tenant had applied for, and kept, the permit under its own name, the Post-Tribune of Merrillville reported.
James Morgulec, an attorney with the Department of Justice's Environmental Crimes Division, argued that Holmes, who has worked in the waste industry for decades, should have known from experience the permit wasn't his to use.
He called it "vitally important" for all companies dumping waste in Hammond to work with the Hammond Sanitary District to ensure it is aware of discharges and can properly handle them. He said not doing so could result in untreated wastewater being released in Lake Michigan and the Grand Calumet River, killing wildlife and making water unsafe for drinking.
Holmes apologized for his actions Friday, saying "the stress, anguish and embarrassment are a terrible burden to bear."
Holmes must pay a $30,000 fine, and NH Environmental must pay a $70,000 fine and $100,000 in restitution to the city of Hammond and its sanitary district.