Mill owner pleads guilty in 2011 spill
LAFAYETTE – U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced that Southwest Rice Mill Inc. president and owner Frederick Marque De La Houssaye, 60, of Crowley, pleaded guilty to one count of negligent discharge of hazardous materials.
De La Houssaye was then sentenced to serve 24 months of probation and 160 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine. Southwest Rice Mill was ordered to pay restitution of $1,012,401. U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Hanna handed down the sentence.
According to evidence presented at the guilty plea, from May 27, 2011 to May 31, 2011, De La Houssaye and Southwest Rice Mill Inc. in Crowley, negligently discharged waste oil into navigable waters. Mill laborers were performing routine maintenance on May 27, 2011 on a railroad spur, which in part the mill leased from Acadiana Railroad, in an effort to maintain drainage ditches for the mill and Acadiana Railroad. While performing the spur maintenance near the mill with an excavator, a laborer negligently struck the valve of an above-ground storage tank containing waste oil, which is a hazardous substance. After the valve was struck, oil began to shoot 10 to 15 feet from the tank. The tank was near a drainage ditch, and the oil spilled and accumulated in the ditch. The laborer who struck the valve called his supervisor, De La Houssaye. About an hour later, De La Houssaye arrived at the scene. An unknown amount of oil had spilled from the tank and flowed into Bayou Blanc. De La Houssaye ignored his duty to report the spill, and he and the laborers later left the site.
Robert Burke, the Crowley District Fire Chief, received a call May 28, 2011 from a resident reporting an oil spill on Bayou Blanc. Burke traced the oil spill back to the drainage ditch at the mill. De La Houssaye told investigators he planned to deal with it after the Memorial Day holiday, which was May, 31, 2011.
Environmental authorities were called to the scene to investigate and began cleanup efforts. The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and others conducted an operation that cost federal, state, and local authorities $1,012,401.
“My office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who pollute our air, land and water,” Finley stated. “Companies and their employees will be held accountable for the damage they do to the environment. Hopefully this case serves as a deterrent to those who would ignore the environmental laws of this nation and state.”
“This country’s environmental laws are aimed at keeping inland waterways from becoming dumping grounds for waste materials,” said Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana. “After the rupture of an oil storage tank on his property, the defendant failed to notify authorities who could have minimized the damage caused by thousands of gallons of untreated waste oil flowing directly into Bayou Blanc. Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that companies and their senior managers will be held responsible for environmental crimes.”
“This is an example of the consequences people face when they choose to violate the environmental regulations,” Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch said. “We have seen great strides in the environment throughout the state because the majority of the people care about the environment and want to do the right thing. Hopefully, today’s events will serve as an incentive for everyone to abide by the environmental regulations.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and Crowley District Fire Department conducted the investigation and cleanup. Assistant U.S. Attorney Myers P. Namie prosecuted the case.