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FEDERAL JUDGE HOLDS MAN IN CONTEMPT FOR SAFE DRINKING WATER ACT VIOLATIONS

Release Date: 12/7/1999
Contact Information: David Sternberg (215) 814-5548

David Sternberg (215) 814-5548

HAWLEY, Pa. - On Dec. 2, 1999, United States District Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie held Richard Freeman, owner of the Tafton Water System, in contempt of court for failing to remedy Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Judge Vanaskie promised to issue a warrant for Freeman’s arrest if Freeman fails to correct these violations.

The system serves 150 residents of the Wilson Hill Development area in Hawley, Pike County, Pa. The residents have been required to boil their drinking water for nearly four years in order to make it safe to drink.

“The judge’s ruling sends a clear message to the public water supply community that people have a right to safe drinking water,” said Thomas C. Voltaggio, acting regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Feb. 1999, the United States and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PaDEP”) sued in federal district court in Scranton, Pa., against Freeman, Winton Consolidated Companies, Inc., Public Service Water Company, Inc. and Tafton Water Company, Inc. for long-standing violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act at the Tafton Water System.

In the Feb. 1999 complaint, the U.S. and Pennsylvania alleged violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, including: not maintaining adequate chlorination; and not monitoring drinking water for total coliform bacteria, lead, copper, nitrate, and inorganic, volatile organic, and synthetic organic chemicals. The system has also failed to report monitoring results, provide public notices, and employ a certified operator.

In April 1996, PaDEP to issued a “boil water advisory” to the system’s users because the water system was not adequately disinfecting its water supply, potentially exposing consumers to harmful bacteria. That advisory remains in effect today.

In June 1999, the United States, PaDEP and Freeman signed a consent decree to partially settle the lawsuit. The consent decree requires Freeman to make repairs and modifications to the Tafton Water System so the boil water advisory can be lifted.

When Freeman failed to take the necessary and timely steps required by the consent decrees, the United States and PaDEP requested that the court hold him in contempt of court. Judge Vanaskie agreed with the government and ordered Freeman to take certain steps by Dec. 13, 1999 and complete the repairs and modifications to the system no later than Jan. 14, 2000. Judge Vanaskie stated that, if Freeman fails to comply, he will issue a warrant for Freeman’s arrest.

Judge Vanaskie’s order requires Freeman to escrow funds sufficient to finance the project and provide his personal financial information to the government by Dec. 13, 1999. Additionally, Freeman must complete all repairs and modifications of the Tafton Water System, including the installation of a new water storage tank, no later than
Jan. 14, 2000.

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