The Pulse

Facing a massive environmental fine, Bottomley again cited for allegedly violating state water quality rules

By: - July 28, 2022 12:21 pm
Photo of a a creek bed that has deep deposits of brown silt, which can suffocate aquatic life
This portion of Ramey Creek is downstream of the Bottomley property. The silt in the creek bed can suffocate aquatic life or their food sources, endangering their habitat. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

A chronic violator allegedly responsible for damaging miles of mountain streams has again been cited by state regulators, even after incurring one of the largest environmental fines in North Carolina history.

Earlier this month, the Department of Environmental Quality cited Bottomley Properties and Bottomley Evergreens and Farms related to the companies’ failure to repair extensive stream damage from land-clearing practices. The repairs were required as part of a work plan agreed to by Bottomley and DEQ.

The Bottomley family owns 1,700 acres in Alleghany and Surry counties, where they grow a variety of vegetables and Christmas trees, and graze cattle. The company and related enterprises have been cited for dozens of environmental violations by state regulators over the past 20 years.

A map showing the Bottomley property in relation to damaged streams in Alleghany and Surry counties in North Carolina.
This map shows the Bottomley property in relation to damaged streams in Alleghany and Surry counties. (Map: DEQ

Most recently, in April DEQ fined the company $268,000 for what the agency called in court documents “egregious violations” of the state’s water quality standards. “The violations observed constituted some of the most extensive sedimentation damage to waters the Division of Water Resources staff involved in this matter have ever seen,” court documents read.

The Bottomley company is exploiting a legal loophole that allows agricultural and mining operations to cut trees and bushes to the stream bank. But it is still illegal for that clear-cutting to degrade water quality.

The damage occurred in 2020 and 2021, when Bottomley had cleared more than 300 acres for a cattle operation. Rock, mud and dirt had damaged three-quarters of an acre of wetlands and more than three linear miles of streams. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission subsequently performed an emergency rescue of vulnerable and unique mountain brook trout — known as “brookies” — and relocated the fish to another stream.

Photo of a steep grassy slope where there were once trees. Only a few scraggy trees remain after the land was cleared.
This steep slope was clearcut as part of the Bottomley company’s cattle grazing operation. The company left just a few scraggly trees. It has replanted this slope with grass in order to keep runoff from entering nearby Ramey Creek. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

In addition to the fine, DEQ is requiring Bottomley to restore stream banks and repair other damage. However, according to the NOV dated July 15, 2022, Division of Water Resources inspectors documented ongoing water quality violations as a result of the original land clearing in 2020 and 2021. While some slopes have been planted with grasses and trees to stabilize the hillsides and stream banks, other areas are bare and eroding.

Cattle were also “present within the field,” even though the state had required Bottomley to fence in the streams and provide alternate water for the animals before allowing them to graze. Hoof prints and cattle manure were found along the stream banks. Fecal coliform levels exceeded state freshwater standards by three to six times.

There was also a “significant amount of algae” in a tributary to Ramey Creek, likely because of fertilizer and manure runoff. Algae blooms can kill fish and other aquatic life because they decrease oxygen levels in the water. Silt and sediment had accumulated up to 6 inches deep.

A second violation issued July 18, 2022, is connected to land clearing in Alleghany County. The company allegedly filled 1,000 square feet of wetland with debris.

Bottomley is contesting the earlier fine in state administrative law court. A hearing is scheduled for October.


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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.