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Farmer indicted on pollution charges

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Hundreds of thousands of gallons" of hog manure were allowed to pollute the water sources of four Marshall County homes by a Bedford County hog farmer, according to the district attorney who on Monday explained criminal charges issued by the Marshall County grand jury last week.

"I had liability insurance," Charles Edward "Charlie" Haskins, 61, of 1066 Haskins Chapel Road replied Monday night when asked about the indictments and nearby residents. "They signed off on it (an agreement) and they were happy and they (his insurer) took care of it. I don't know where they get vandalism from spreading manure. I hired a company that's reputable in spreading it."

However, District Attorney Chuck Crawford said state officials brought him information about Haskins' farm from an on-going investigation several months ago.

Haskins has had some 3,500 hogs, although that number isn't a legal issue.

"We believe the water supply to at least four homes was affected" by the hogs' waste the prosecutor said. "They couldn't use their water.

"Farmers who have to dump huge amounts of waste ... must have a plan" for disposal, Crawford said. "He had a plan... We expect the proof to show that he exceeded the limitations placed on him by his plan.

"He is charged with contaminating the water supply by dumping excessive amounts of waste from his hog production facilities," the prosecutor said.

The vandalism law "spells out contamination" as an offense, Crawford said, noting three pollution charges, and a reckless endangerment count in the indictments issued under seal on Aug. 19. Haskins' case was presented directly to the grand jury, bypassing General Sessions Court. As such, it was a secret until Haskins' arrest became a public record on Saturday morning. Haskins was arrested by Bedford County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Holton, booked in Shelbyville and released in 31 minutes on $5,000 bond.

"We believe there's probable cause for us to go forward and obviously the grand jury concurs," the prosecutor said.

"I have heard of this kind of case being prosecuted before, and I have prosecuted one case that was vandalism based on contamination, but not on this scale," Crawford said. Haskins' farm is in the "north end of Marshall County ... where Marshall and Bedford come together."

It's near Duck River Speedway.

Several departments of state government are cooperating in a joint investigation for this case, Crawford said.

"The Attorney General's Office is going to assist in the prosecution of these charges," he said. "This thing has gone through the civil procedure and ... this is not the first time that this mistake has come to his attention."

Marshall County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Billy Lamb said Haskins' indictment is on four counts of causing pollution, five vandalism counts and six reckless endangerment charges.

In a telephone interview Monday night, Haskins said the first he "knew of this; there were some wells in them with bacteria. They were 1.8 miles from me...

"It's sort of a mess," Haskins continued. "I've been dealing with them for a year. I've got papers from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. They were going to fine me $10,000. Half of it was in contention..."

A significant portion of the civil penalty wasn't pursued, he said.

"I just wanted it to be over with and then they just up and did this," Haskins said. "I haven't talked to the state's lawyer.

"There are these manure permits," he continued. "I've got a book here like an encyclopedia on what you can do" and what's not allowed.

"They've got more regulations than you can imagine," Haskins said. "They've got rules on manure, like you've got nothing else to do.

"I've been farming since 1980 ... but it seems like there are more and more regulations.

"I'll have to have help on it," said Haskins who went to the office of Marshall County Circuit Court Clerk Elinor Brandon Foster where she provided some clarification on the process of service by Bedford County and why he will face Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler here. It's a Marshall County case because, while the defendant is a Bedford County resident, the people presented as victims live in Marshall County.

"I have not checked with them," Haskins said. "The Farm Bureau paid them. As soon as I turned it over to them, they were fussing over it..."

However, an insurance adjuster "met with them," the farmer said. He "didn't ask" what happened at the meeting, because "as far as the fine was concerned, I wanted it to pay the fine and be over with it."

Records mentioned by Haskins are apparently from Robert Cox, assistant general counsel for TDEC in Nashville and Chad Augustine, a supervisor at the department's Columbia office.

"Chad Augustine came and looked," Haskins said. "He told me the day he left, he was looking for puddles and piles, and he said 'If there's anything wrong here, there's a problem with the wells...'

"A letter of agreement with TDEC on Aug. 19, 2009, gives me all my stuff and then the first thing I know I have this court deal and I had to make bond, and it came from the same place as I understand it."

Haskins was confounded by the vandalism charge.

"Heck, that's just all wet," he said. "I always figured manure is a nuisance, but it's worth something as fertilizer, and last year it was worth more."

Fertilizer prices have "come back down," Haskins said.

As he faces criminal charges and a falling market for fertilizer, Haskins said, "The only thing I did right was to sell all those sows last year."

At one time he had "over a quarter million dollars worth of hogs," Haskins said. There were "3,500 on feed (with) maybe a few more with babies on the ground."

He still has "about 500," said Haskins, who "sold all but a few."

Records show Haskins is scheduled for a Sept. 9 hearing. It might only be for his arraignment.