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Fertilizer kills 50K fish in Linn County creek, owner fined
Ammonia nitrogen drained into pond and creek, DNR says
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has ordered a Coggon landowner to pay more than $20,000 after an investigation showed fertilizer pumped from the property killed more than 50,000 fish in Dry Creek last fall.
Patrick and Tracy Hammes, who live in Batavia but own a fertilizer storage site near Coggon, must pay a $10,000 administrative penalty — the largest fine the DNR can assess — and $11,400 in restitution and investigative costs, according to the order released Thursday.
“Hammes violated multiple Iowa laws and rules related to the discharge of pollutants to the tributary, the pond and Dry Creek,” the DNR order said.
The DNR was called to Linn County Sept. 9 when a neighbor noticed dead fish in Dry Creek, east of Walker.
Brian Jergenson, a senior environmental specialist in the Iowa DNR’s Manchester field office, tested the water in several places, including in Dry Creek, a nearby pond and upstream and downstream of a tile drainage line from the Hammes property, the report states.
All the tests downstream of the tile showed ammonia nitrogen in the water. A review by DNR Biologist Dan Kirby estimated there were more than 50,000 dead fish, including minnows, chubs, dace, suckers, stonerollers, darters and sunfish.
“Mr. Kirby also noted evidence of dead frog tadpoles, leeches, and worms during his investigation,” the report states.
When Jergenson investigated at the Hammes property, he noticed a gravel area near the ammonia nitrogen storage tanks that appeared to funnel toward the tile intake, the report states.
Kent Schmitz, facility manager, told Jergenson water from a secondary basin was pumped out and allowed to flow through the tile line.
“Mr. Schmitz stated that it was assumed the water was clean after visual observation,” the report states. “Mr. Schmitz stated that neither he nor any other employee of Hammes field-sampled the water for pollutants prior to its discharge.”
Jergenson noted a strong ammonia smell near the tile intake and tests of the ground nearby showed ammonia nitrogen was present.
The fine amount is based on the economic benefit to the person for not addressing the violation, the severity of the violation and the culpability of a person or people.
“Hammes willfully released contaminated water from the facility’s secondary containment and catch basin to ground near the tile on a regular basis,” the report states. “The discharge occurred over an extended period of time, as demonstrated by the channelization in the ground.”
The Hammeses may appeal the order.
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