The owner of an Auburn cattle feedlot tied by state wildlife officials to a fish kill that affected an estimated 16 miles of local waterways last year has paid a $10,000 settlement.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources recently reached the settlement with Robert Woodward, owner of the feedlot in Auburn.
The settlement enables Woodward to avoid a lawsuit, bringing an end to formal proceedings against the feedlot, though it is uncertain when aquatic life in Clear Fork Creek and Gasper River will return to levels before the fish kill.
According to a copy of the settlement obtained by the Daily News, state fish and wildlife officials alleged that “Woodward placed or caused to be placed manure and slurry that entered into Clear Fork Creek and Gasper River” on May 27, 2019, causing 53,782 fish to be killed in Logan and Warren counties.
The department assessed the replacement value of the fish and the associated response and investigative costs at $32,738.76, according to the settlement.
Woodward denied liability for the fish kill.
“Both parties recognize that it is in their best interest to avoid an expensive and protracted legal action, and both parties are desirous of settlement,” the four-page settlement said.
A $10,000 cashier’s check dated May 19 was sent by Woodward to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, according to documents obtained by the Daily News.
The settlement directed the money be deposited into the Restricted Fish and Game Fund.
Neither Woodward nor his attorney, Bud Strickler, returned messages seeking comment.
Dead fish were observed in the river during Memorial Day weekend last year, about 16 miles from the head of Clear Fork Creek.
On May 28, 2019, the Kentucky Division of Water recorded dissolved oxygen levels of 2 milligrams per liter in water samples collected along the river and Clear Fork Creek.
Further investigation from the division revealed elevated E. coli levels in the creek and river, as well as the presence of nitrogen and phosphorous, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman John Mura told the Daily News last year.
“We tried to find out what was in the water,” Mura said in 2019. “And that led us to look where it may have come from, which led us to looking at this feedlot, which led us to see they weren’t managing it properly.”
The state energy and environment cabinet issued three citations to the feedlot owned by Woodward.
A notice of violation issued June 19, 2019, by the cabinet to Woodward Feed Lot said runoff from the site was observed to enter Clear Fork Creek, an animal carcass in an advanced state of decay was observed at the facility and liquid feed and distillery byproducts were sometimes provided to the animals there.
The notice of violation alleged the feedlot failed to implement an effective Agriculture Water Quality Plan, pollutants entered and contributed to the pollution of waters and the waters of the state were degraded.
In August, the state fish and wildlife department issued a letter of demand to Woodward for releasing a substance into public water that killed wildlife and requested he pay $32,740 within 10 working days from his receipt of the letter.
Eric Cummins, Southwest Fisheries District biologist with the state department of fish and wildlife resources, said the ecosystem in Clear Fork Creek affected by the fish kill event had been “depressed and stressed” prior to the event, plus a greater length of it was impacted than the Gasper River.
Cummins said fish in Gasper River will recolonize from upstream and downstream of the impacted area and from feeder creeks where some fish were able to escape from low oxygen levels.
Still, the timeframe for different species of fish to repopulate the affected waterways will vary.
“Those that are larger and more mobile, like suckers, bass and sunfish will repopulate more quickly,” Cummins said in an email. “Smaller or less mobile fishes, like darters, sculpins and shiners will take longer.”
State fish and wildlife officials will monitor the area in the coming years and assess restocking needs, Cummins said.
“This is in keeping with the department’s mission, which is to conserve, protect and enhance Kentucky’s fish and wildlife resources and provide outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, shooting sports, wildlife viewing and related activities,” Cummins said.