The state Department of Ecology has fined a Kennewick businessman $50,000 for allegedly dumping about 4,000 gallons of portable toilet sewage into a city sewer near Southridge High School.
Now, John Liniger, owner of Sunshine Portable Toilets, is facing possible federal criminal charges.
Liniger was cited after agents with the Environmental Protection Agency did a nighttime stakeout in the desert of south Kennewick to see who illegally was pouring waste into the city sewer.
Pat Everham, field services supervisor for Kennewick's Public Works department, said city crews discovered the problem in early October in the 1,000-foot-long sewer main on Plaza Way.
Workers found a clogged sewer main in an undeveloped area without homes or businesses.
"It is a long stretch of road with no lights," Everham said.
The area did not have the normal amount of flush water that would move the sewage along, said Rick Dawson, environmental unit supervisor from the Benton-Franklin Health District.
Also, a blue fluid, similar to what is used in portable toilets as a deodorizer, was found in the sewer, prompting the city to report the dumping to the health district and the EPA, Dawson said.
Kennewick spent $7,800 to clean out the main line and to sanitize gutters and catch basins with a chlorine mixture.
A year earlier, city workers found a virtually identical problem at the same location on Plaza Way, Everham said.
Hoping to catch the culprit, this time the city mounted a motion-sensor night camera on a light pole near the manhole.
On Oct. 16, the camera captured images of a sewage truck at the manhole at 5 a.m. and again just before 7 a.m., said Joye Redfield-Wilder, an Ecology department spokeswoman.
Based on the photos, EPA agents and some Kennewick city employees started nighttime surveillance of the manhole.
On Oct. 22, investigators said they caught Liniger unloading the contents of one of his sewage disposal trucks into the Plaza Way main line.
"Three or four EPA guys were hiding behind sagebrush waiting when they caught him," Everham said.
Liniger was cited for discharging solid and liquid waste into the city sewage system without a permit, for interfering with the city's treatment works and posing a public health risk by allowing raw sewage to run into the street.
Liniger's septic tank pumper license with the Benton-Franklin Health District has been placed on a conditional status pending results of the EPA investigation, Dawson said.
An annual permit costs $70 per truck, and Liniger's permit could be suspended or revoked, he said.
Liniger declined to talk about the case. But his attorney Michael Davidson told the Herald that federal environmental officials were working with Liniger to resolve the case, including restitution.
"The (Ecology) fines, assessments and penalties will be appealed so there won't be any duplication with the federal penalties," Davidson said.
Liniger's permit allowed him to legally dispose of sewage from portable toilets at Overlook Farms in Finley, which has a permit to use the sludge.