State to pay $356K legal bill from suit over fish hatchery pollution

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Apr. 27—CONCORD — A federal judge has ordered the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to pay $333,200 in attorney fees to the Conservation Law Foundation to cover the organization's legal bills associated with their lawsuit over pollution from the Powder Mill fish hatchery.

A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro also calls for $23,200 in costs associated with the long-running case, which was settled last year when the state agreed to build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment site at the fish hatchery, which is located in New Durham.

In 2018, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) had sued the state over the hatchery, claiming phosphorus and other contaminants from the hatchery polluted the Merrymeeting River. The federal EPA eventually joined the case.

According to CLF press secretary Jake O'Neill, the federal Clean Waters Act allows for attorney fees in order to encourage citizens to take polluters to court.

"Unfortunately, NH Fish & Game chose to drag out this case rather than solve the obvious pollution problems they were causing," O'Neill said. The fees reflect the man hours CLF spent trying to hold Fish and Game accountable.

An email the Fish and Game Executive Director Scott Mason was not returned.

Deputy Attorney General James Boffetti, whose office defended Fish and Game, said the decision is under review. He said the Powder Mill hatchery remains in operation, and Fish and Game is negotiating with the EPA on the next step and schedules for building a treatment plant.

Last September, Mason said a wastewater treatment plant could cost as much as $85 million. New Hampshire has devoted $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to build two new fish hatcheries.

The decree gives New Hampshire Fish and Game until Dec. 31, 2025, to begin operations of a treatment plant that complies with the federal Clean Water Act.