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Tip to EPA Web Site Leads to Criminal Guilty Plea by Former Public Works Director of Lake Ozark, Mo.

Release Date: 07/31/2008
Contact Information: Chris Whitley, (913) 551-7394, whitley.christopher@epa.gov


Environmental News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Kansas City, Kan., July 31, 2008) - A citizen's tip to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site in 2006 resulted today in the federal guilty plea of a former city official of Lake Ozark, Mo., who admitted failing to report the discharge of raw sewage into the Lake of the Ozarks.

Richard L. Sturgeon, 52, of Eldon, Mo., waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty to one felony count of failing to report the discharge of pollutants into a lake, in an appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge William A. Knox in Jefferson City, Mo.

As Lake Ozark's public works director, Sturgeon was responsible for overseeing the city's waste water treatment facility and reporting sewage bypasses. Lake Ozark co-owns and operates the Lake of the Ozarks Regional Waste Water Treatment Facility with the City of Osage Beach, Mo.

Sturgeon's plea to the federal criminal charge is the first in the nation to result from a tip forwarded to EPA through the Agency's "Report an Environmental Violation" Web site. Since the site was launched in January 2006, it has received thousands of tips about potential environmental violations.

"A concerned citizen brought this situation to our attention by submitting a tip through our Web site," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's enforcement and compliance assurance program. "This is a great example of how the public can help federal and state authorities fight environmental crime. We invite all citizens to help protect our nation's environment by identifying and reporting environmental violations."

The City of Lake Ozark has a history of overflows or bypass events from its waste water treatment facility's lift stations into the Lake of the Ozarks. Citizen request forms maintained by the city document numerous incidents of lift station sewage bypasses that were never reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The city has routinely failed to notify DNR when the bypasses occurred, as its permit requires.

On Sept. 11, 2007, DNR staff observed that a lift station was experiencing a bypass, resulting in a discharge of 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of raw sewage into the lake. DNR staff noted that the sewage caused a dark plume in the water at the Lake of the Ozarks. DNR notified the city of the bypass, and the city responded and stopped the flow, but conducted no clean up and provided no written notification of the bypass.

On Sept. 13, 2007, DNR staff visited the site, and no clean up had been started. DNR contacted Sturgeon and requested a clean up of the area. The bypass was never reported to DNR as required by the city's permit. A sample analysis of water collected from the Lake of the Ozarks showed extremely elevated levels for ammonia nitrogen and fecal coliform exceeding the criteria for whole body contact recreation.

"Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest and most popular recreational lakes in the Midwest," said John Wood, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. "Under the Clean Water Act, we have a duty to prevent this natural resource from being polluted and to protect the health and safety of the public, including recreational users."

Under federal statutes, Sturgeon could be subject to a sentence of up to three years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence E. Miller, and by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne Rauch of EPA Region 7's Office of Regional Counsel. It was investigated by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

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