Sewage Treatment Plant Operator Given Prison Time

Monday, February 6, 2012

A sewage treatment plant operator has been ordered to serve time in federal prison for not operating the facility at Niota, Tn., correctly and for lying to state inspectors about it.

Judge Sandy Mattice on Monday morning sentenced Donald Jack Clark to six months in prison and another six months of home confinement with an electronic monitoring device. He must also perform 150 hours of community service.

Prosecutor Matthew Morris had argued for a stiffer sentence, saying a message needed to be sent to other sewage plant operators not to endanger the public's health.

He said there was no evidence that anyone became ill due to the problems at the Niota plant, but he said the possibility was there.

Environmental inspector Angela Young of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the effluent at the plant was not treated with chlorine for a two-year period. She said there was no evidence that the sewage sludge was being hauled away as it should have been.

She said the chrlorine is necessary to kill e coli and other harmful substances in the water.

Ms. Young said the plant is on the tiny stream of Little North Mouse Creek. She said there had been complaints that the creek had a dark color.

The witness said Clark had reached the level of a class III operator and the state relied on him being honest in his reports. She said another operator at the plant turned in reports saying the plant was not meeting standards.

Clark told the judge, "I made a terrible mistake."

He operated the Niota plant in McMinn County for 17 years.     

The recommended sentencing range was 12-18 months.


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