FARMINGTON — The owner of an unlicensed septic tank business and his brother are facing years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for allegedly dumping liquid waste on federal land.
Anthony Wiggins, 54, the owner and operator of A-1 Septic Service, and his brother, Alex Wiggins, 51, were arraigned Thursday in federal court on three counts of depredation of government property and a conspiracy charge. Authorities say the Wiggins brothers dumped 3,000 gallons of liquid waste that they pumped from residential septic tanks onto Bureau of Land Management land near Bloomfield in March.
BLM law enforcement officers and San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies investigated the case and said they filmed the Wiggins brothers, of Farmington, dumping sewage on March 6 and 9, according to court documents.
James Vincent, the program manager of liquid waste for the New Mexico Environment Department, said septic service businesses should take liquid waste to wastewater treatment facilities, which are usually owned by local governments.
"It's supposed to go to an authorized facility," he said. "It shouldn't go into an arroyo."
A-1 Septic Service is one of several businesses in the county that pumps residential septic tanks. Beginning in 2011, the businesses had to complete courses and training in order for the New Mexico Environment Department to classify them as a "qualified" septic service business, Vincent said. The training teaches businesses the proper way to dispose of the waste.
A-1 Septic Service is not one of about 10 septic service businesses that are licensed to operate in San Juan County, Vincent said.
All septic tank service businesses in San Juan County should take liquid waste to the wastewater treatment plant at 1395 S. Lake St. in Farmington, said Dean Roquemore, the operations manager for CH2M Hill, the contractor that operates Farmington's wastewater plant.
Businesses are charged $39.78 per 1,000 gallons of waste water they take to the plant. That means it would have cost the Wiggins brothers $119.34 to dispose of the liquid waste legally.
Instead, the brothers are each charged with four felonies.
Anthony Wiggins has a lengthy criminal history, including convictions for bringing contraband into jail in 1990, distributing a controlled substance in 1992, credit card fraud and possession of a firearm by a felon in 1995, driving while intoxicated in 2008 and disorderly conduct in 2011, according to a state court website.
Aside from the charges in March, Alex Wiggins does not appear to have a criminal record, according to the website.
Each of the depredation charges carries a possible 10-year prison sentence and the conspiracy charge can bring a five-year sentence. All four of the charges can also carry a $250,000 fine, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The BLM will spend about $28,500 cleaning up the sewage mess, said Dale Wirth, the branch chief for range and multiple resources for the BLM Farmington Field Office.
The BLM didn't reveal the exact location of the spill because of the pending case, but Wirth said it was north of Crawford Pens and RV Park on County Road 5290. He said the spill site was about 5 miles north of the San Juan River and 2 miles from the nearest homes.
He said the sewage was dumped into a 10-to-12-foot wide arroyo, and it flowed for about a quarter-mile.
The BLM treated the waste with granular chlorine to remove pathogens. Sunlight also helped break down harmful chemicals in the waste, he said.
The land remains stained from the waste, and there are solids, such as tissues, cluttered throughout the contamination site, Wirth said.
Wirth said the sewage spill was near an area that had been used for years as an illegal dump site for household materials.
"We took care of any immediate threats to human health and the environment," he said. "It's unsightly, but it isn't critical."