The Maine Department of Environmental Protection imposed enforcement actions on potato processing facility Penobscot McCrum for numerous violations of its wastewater license, including discharging ammonia into the Passagassawakeag River.

A March DEP enforcement report states that Penobscot McCrum discharged wastewater that exceeded its limits for pH and suspended solids at certain times, and failed to report or maintain monitoring records on flow, pH and temperature of wastewater discharges as required in its license agreement.

The company also failed to adequately report biological oxygen demand, or the amount of oxygen microorganisms would need to  break down the organic waste present, of its wastewater discharges.

According to the report, ammonia used in the facility's cooling system was being flushed out into Passagassawakeag River with non-contact cooling water that does not require treatment. The department worked with Penobscot McCrum to reroute flows from its cooling system into its wastewater treatment system and replace a component of the purge valve system that had been installed incorrectly.

Jay McCrum, managing partner at the Pierce Street facility, said Tuesday: "We did buy a new piece of equipment which purges ammonia out of the water. It didn't operate properly and we were unaware of it. Once we were aware of, it we replaced it."

Penobscot McCrum agreed to adhere to a revised operations and management plan and pay a civil penalty of $15,090 to resolve the violations.

"The DEP was very good to work with," McCrum said.

Last year, The Republican Journal did an investigation involving sampling and testing discharges from accessible outfall pipes on Knox and Waldo county beaches. The discharge from Penobscot McCrum's outfall pipe located on a bank  near the Veteran's Memorial Bridge was measured at 10.18 – 11.11 pH in five samples taken between March 23 and April 10, 2014. (The pH of ammonia, a weak base, is approximately 11.) However, Penobscot McCrum reported a maximum pH of 7.53 on its March 2014 discharge monitoring report submitted to DEP.

The Journal notified the DEP of its measurements, at which point then DEP Communications Director Jessamine Logan requested information on the location of the pipe sampled and indicated that inspectors would check the pipe at their next visit.

"Penobscot McCrum measures the pH themselves, which is how the entire [Maine Pollution Discharge Elimination System] operates," Logan said at the time.

According to the signed administrative consent agreement between Penobscot McCrum and DEP, department staff inspected the facility May 19, 2014, and determined ammonia was being discharged from the cooling system into non-contact cooling water. They found the pH of the discharge to be 10.4.

The consent agreement states: "McCrum personnel later confirmed that the automated purge-valve in the ammonia cooling system failed intermittently beginning in May 2013. Both the failing automated purge valve and manual operation allowed ammonia to leak into the non-contact cooling water system. The automated purge valve was not permanently repaired until Aug. 6, 2014. The McCrum waste discharge license did not mention nor did the terms and conditions of the waste discharge license authorize discharge of ammonia through outfall 002."

Peter Carney, enforcement coordinator for the department, said the discovery of the ammonia violation prompted a review of the company's discharge monitoring reports that wastewater license holders must submit monthly to the department. Through this review, the reporting errors were found.

The consent agreement required payment of the penalty up front and submission of a revised operations and maintenance plan. That plan has been submitted and the penalty paid, Carney said, "now they just need to adhere to the requirements."

This story has been updated to include comments from DEP enforcement coordinator Peter Carney and details in McCrum's administrative consent agreement with the department.