Crowley company ordered to pay $1 million for cleanup

The owner of the Southwest Rice Mill in Crowley pleaded guilty Wednesday to a federal environmental charge in a deal that calls for his company to pay $1 million to reimburse federal and state agencies for cleaning up an estimated 266 barrels of waste oil that leaked from a damaged tank near the mill.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna also sentenced mill owner Frederick M. De La Houssaye, 60, to two years unsupervised probation and ordered that he pay a $2,500 fine and perform 160 hours of community service.

The spill happened after a crew working for De La Houssaye accidentally damaged a large waste oil storage tank with an excavator while working on property next to the mill, according to a summary of the case filed by federal prosecutors.

De La Houssaye was accused of not alerting authorities to the spilled oil, which flowed down a drainage ditch and into Bayou Blanc in Crowley.

The spill happened during the Memorial Day weekend in 2011; prosecutors said after an investigator traced the oil sheen on Bayou Blanc back to the mill, De La Houssaye told him he didn’t plan on dealing with it until after the holiday.

The incident prompted a major response from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Coast Guard, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Crowley Fire Department.

The $1,012,401 in restitution will be shared by those agencies to cover cleanup expenses.

When asked by Hanna if he had anything to say before sentencing, De La Houssaye responded, “I wouldn’t do it again.”

According to DEQ records, an estimated 266 barrels of waste oil leaked from the tank.

The DEQ summary of the incident alleges De La Houssaye declined to bring in private contractors to clean up the spill even after environmental agents informed him he was legally responsible, an inaction that led to the state and federal agencies taking charge of the cleanup.

The leaking tank was owned by another company and De La Houssaye had thought it unfair he had to take the responsibility, even though his work crews damaged the tank, according to the DEQ investigation.

“It was an unfortunate incident that has been remedied,” said De La Houssaye’s attorney, Donald Washington.

De La Houssaye has 30 days to pay the fines and restitution and he told Hanna the company has the money to make the payments.

“Companies and their employees will he held accountable for the damage they do to the environment,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a written statement.

“Hopefully, this case serves as a deterrent to those who would ignore the environmental laws of this nation and state.”