Ferry Captain Pleads Guilty to Illegal Dumping

Thursday, October 06, 2005
Kevin J. O’Connor, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that MARK EASTER, age 54, of 152 Gager Road, Bozrah, Connecticut, waived indictment and pleaded guilty today to illegally causing raw sewage and untreated sludge to be discharged into the Thames River and Long Island Sound. EASTER’s plea of guilty was accepted this afternoon by United States Magistrate Judge Thomas P. Smith in Hartford.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, if accepted by Magistrate Judge Smith, EASTER will serve a term of imprisonment of 30 days. In addition, he faces a maximum fine in the amount of $25,000 per day.

“This crime against the environment occurred for several years, and thousands of gallons of raw sewage were knowingly deposited directly into our waterways,” U.S. Attorney O’Connor stated. “This case is another example of the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners vigorously enforcing compliance with environmental laws by prosecuting those who choose to ignore them.”

According to documents filed with the Court and statements made in court, EASTER was Operations Manager of the Fisher’s Island Ferry, a municipal public transportation agency operated by the Fisher’s Island Ferry District, a department of the Town of Southhold, New York. The Fisher’s Island Ferry provides daily year-round ferry service from New London, Connecticut, to Fisher’s Island, New York. In New London, the Fisher’s Island Ferry terminal is located at the mouth of the Thames River. The Fisher’s Island Ferry owns and operates two ferries, the Motor Vessel (“M/V”) Race Point and the M/V Munnatawket.

Throughout the years in question, 2000 to 2004, the M/V Race Point and the M/V Munnatawket were equipped with holding tanks that were used to hold raw sewage and untreated sludge from the toilet facilities on each vessel, as well as additional wastewaters produced by the vessels’ sanitation systems. Each vessel was also equipped with overboard discharge valves, which could be open or closed, locked or unlocked. Pursuant to federal regulation, the Fisher’s Island Ferry was required to lock the overboard discharge valves in the closed position, thereby insuring that raw sewage, untreated sludge, and other wastewaters would not be discharged into the Thames River or Long Island Sound. It was EASTER’s responsibility to ensure compliance with applicable federal statutes and regulations.

In order to empty the holding tanks in a manner consistent with federal regulations, it was necessary periodically to pump them out into tanker trucks at the New London terminal. These trucks would carry the raw sewage and untreated sludge to an on-shore processing facility at a distant location. However, EASTER today admitted that he directed that the overboard discharge valves for the sewage holding tanks on the M/V Race Point and the M/V Munnatawket be unlocked and maintained in the open position while these vessels were in port and while they were transiting between New London and Fisher’s Island. Because of EASTER’s direction to unlock the overboard discharge valves and maintain them in the open position, a significant amount of the raw sewage and untreated sludge from the sewage holding tanks on the M/V Race Point and the M/V Munnatawket was discharged into the Thames River and Long Island Sound.

On July 13, 2004, the Coast Guard performed an unannounced inspection on the M/V Race Point and the M/V Munnatawket while both vessels were berthed at the Fisher’s Island Ferry terminal in New London. In the course of this inspection, Coast Guard personnel observed that the overboard discharge valves for the sewage holding tanks on both vessels were unlocked and in the open position. Following this discovery, EASTER was interviewed by Coast Guard personnel.

According to a stipulation signed by EASTER and filed with the court, in the course of these interviews, EASTER falsely stated that it was not the regular practice of the Fisher’s Island Ferry to maintain the overboard discharge valves unlocked and in the open position. EASTER also falsely stated he was not aware that the overboard discharge valves on the two vessels were unlocked and maintained in the open position.

“The United States Coast Guard takes these matters very seriously and is firmly committed to the protection and preservation of the marine environment in Long Island Sound,” stated Captain Peter Boynton, Captain of the Port and Sector Commander. “We very much appreciate the efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office to protect the waters of this estuary of national significance. We would like to see justice served in this matter, and we hope that this case serves as a deterrent to others in the industry.”

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the Coast Guard Investigative Service and civilian and uniformed personnel from Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. The case is being prosecuted by United States Attorney Kevin J. O’Connor and Assistant United States Attorney John A. Marrella.

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