MINERVA - A cheese factory has agreed to pay more than $6,000 in restitution after it accidentally released a cheese byproduct into Sandy Creek, which temporarily depleted oxygen levels and killed more than 5,400 fish, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
On June 14, Minerva Cheese Factory accidentally released whey, a milky cheese byproduct, into a storm sewer, said Doug Miller, an ODNR law enforcement supervisor. A filter malfunction caused the whey to enter the sewer, Miller said.
"Minerva Cheese Factory has been very cooperative with the investigation," Miller said. "This is an unfortunate circumstance, but truly unintentional."
When the whey entered Sandy Creek, it depleted oxygen, killing fish along a 1.5 mile stretch downstream from the Minerva Wastewater Treatment Plant, Miller said.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Minerva officials traced the whey back to the cheese factory and the malfunction was corrected, Miller said.
"It was fixed immediately upon them figuring out what it was," Miller said.
At the creek, aerators were used and fresh water was pumped to re-oxygenate the water, Miller said. Miller expected the fish to repopulate on their own.
"It wasn't a total kill," he said. "There were still some live fish in the stream."
The area is a popular fishing destination, Miller said.
Minerva Cheese Factory agreed to pay $6,067 in restitution. The fine was calculated by placing a value on each dead fish and determining how much time officials spent in the investigation, Miller said.
Minerva Cheese Factory produces gourmet Amish cheese and butter, according to its Web site. Its president is Phillip R. Mueller.
Leonard Glenn Crist can be reached at email@example.com