Ex-Lake Ozark official pleads guilty to failing to report sewage discharge in lake

Thursday, July 31, 2008 | 8:07 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY - A former public works director for the city of Lake Ozark pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to failing to report the discharge of raw sewage into the Lake of the Ozarks.

Richard L. Sturgeon, 52, of Eldon, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge William A. Knox on Thursday morning to one count of failing to report the discharge of pollutants into a lake, reported John F. Wood, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, in a news release.

Sturgeon could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison without parole and a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after a presentence investigation.

According to the release, it was Sturgeon's responsibility as public works director for overseeing Lake Ozark's waste water treatment facility and reporting sewage bypasses. The city co-owns and operates the Lake of the Ozarks Regional Waste Water Treatment Facility with the city of Sage Beach.

The release said Lake Ozark has a history of overflows or bypasses from the waste water treatment plant's lift station, causing raw sewage to flow into the lake. Several incidents were documented that were never reported to the state Department of Natural Resources, which is required by the city's permit.

Department staff observed that the lift station was having a problem on Sept. 11, 2007; 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of raw sewage were discharged into the lake, causing a dark plume in the water, the release said. The department told the city about the problem and the city stopped the flow, but the release said the city did not clean up the spill and didn't provide written notification to the department about the bypass.

Two days later, the Department of Natural Resources came back. The city still hadn't cleaned up the sewage.

The department got in touch with Sturgeon and asked him to start the cleanup. The release said the incident was never reported to the department. And when a water sample was analyzed, it showed extremely elevated levels of ammonia nitrogen and fecal coliform above acceptable standards.

Sturgeon's guilty plea was actually the result of a tip from a citizen to the EPA's "Report a Violation" Web site and is the first criminal plea to come from the site since it was launched in January 2006.


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