By David Irvin: CNJ news editor
An investigation involving several state agencies including the attorney general’s office led to charges against a Melrose man accused of illegally dumping a contaminated byproduct from ethanol production into a roadside ditch in 2002.
Wendell Bostwick, 58, agreed to plead guilty on Thursday to disposing of a solid waste in a place other than a solid waste facility (less than 5,000 pounds), a misdemeanor.
Bostwick was charged with three counts of illegal disposal of a solid waste in a place other than a solid waste facility and two counts of illegal discharge of a water contaminant without a permit, all fourth-degree felonies, a press release from the attorney general’s office shows.
Under the plea agreement, the felony charges were dismissed.
Bostwick will be placed on probation for a year and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine to the New Mexico Environment Health Department Solid Waste Bureau for reimbursement of the investigation and cleanup costs incurred by the state, the press release shows.
Bostwick declined comment and his lawyer could not be reached Monday night.
At the time of the incident, Bostwick was employed at High Plains Ethanol of Portales. That plant is now part of Abengoa Bioenergy.
Bostwick disposed of 108,085 gallons of solid waste consisting of thin stillage into a bar ditch on Sept. 17, 2002, according to the press release. He also discarded a water contaminant without obtaining a permit from the New Mexico Water Quality Commission, according to the press release.
Before soil sampling teams from the state Environment Health Department arrived at the scene, Bostwick allegedly removed the contaminated soil from the dump site and placed at least 28,080 pounds of it in the Melrose Community Landfill, another violation of state statute, the press release shows.
Thin stillage contains nitrates that can adversely affect the health of people with delicate immune systems, according to the press release.
Environmental statutes are in place to prevent ground water from being contaminated in the first place, said Special Agent Teresa Monahan of the attorney general’s office. She said it may take a long time before anyone knows if there was any actual contamination as a result of the thin stillage disposal.
According to officials at the Abengoa plant in Portales, Bostwick has not worked there for nearly a year.
The state did not file a criminal complaint against High Plains Ethanol.
“After this incident they came under increased scrutiny,” Monahan said. “They have assumed the financial responsibility for the remediation of the sites where the illegal disposal occurred.”
She said the prosecutors in the case weighed the reaction of the company in their decision to avoid pressing charges.
“This is a violation of the environmental protection laws in New Mexico, designed to protect the people of New Mexico and its natural resources,” Attorney General Patricia Madrid said in the press release. “The charges against Wendell Bostwick should serve as a warning to those who believe they can ignore regulations and recklessly harm our state’s precious resources, pollute our environment and contaminate our ground water.”