Maine dairy farmer claims former state commissioner — not mishandling of manure — put him out of business

Country Acres Farm Inc. in this February 2007 file photo.
Country Acres Farm Inc. in this February 2007 file photo.
Posted June 23, 2014, at 3:44 p.m.
Seth Bradstreet
SHARON KILEY MACK | BDN
Seth Bradstreet

PORTLAND, Maine — A former Maine dairy farmer is arguing in court that a former state agriculture commissioner put him out of business as payback for a dispute over federal crop subsidies.

But on Monday, the commissioner’s attorney countered that the farmer’s “flagrant disregard for environmental regulations” were the cause of his downfall, not any vendetta.

Carl McCue, former owner of Country Acres Farm in Dixmont, has filed a lawsuit claiming former agriculture commissioner Seth Bradstreet influenced state regulators in their aggressive crackdown on the farm in 2006.

In a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy on Monday afternoon, however, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Taub disagreed.

“It’s really undisputed in this case that Mr. McCue’s handling of manure was an unmitigated disaster,” said Taub, representing Bradstreet.

Taub has filed a motion for summary judgment on Bradstreet’s behalf, urging Levy to throw out the case before it reaches trial.

While Taub did not deny that there was bad blood between Bradstreet and McCue — arising from an argument a year earlier about which of the two could benefit from federal corn subsidies applied to farmland Bradstreet owned but McCue leased — the assistant attorney general said the commissioner recused himself from the County Acres case.

Taub argued McCue was driven out of business instead by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which found the farmer repeatedly discharging manure into nearby Martin Stream and took the unprecedented step of suing County Acres to force compliance with the Clean Water Act.

But Augusta attorney David Webbert, representing McCue, countered in court on Monday that his client had finally received secured financing to clean up the farm and nearby stream when state regulators in late 2006 stripped him of his livestock permit and denied his application to spread manure during the winter.

“With his new equipment and infrastructure and approved financing, it is likely that Mr. McCue would have been able to bring his farm into full compliance with environmental standards by early 2007,” argued Webbert in his written response to Taub’s motion for summary judgment. “But the [Department of Agriculture]’s uniquely punitive treatment of Mr. McCue prevented him from coming into full compliance.”

While Bradstreet did recuse himself from handling McCue’s case, he still made his distaste for the farmer clear to his deputy commissioner and other employees, causing “his subordinates to seek to rid the proverbial king of a bothersome subject,” Webbert argued.

Webbert told Levy on Monday that Bradstreet’s threats against his client were made clear during their previous dispute over the corn subsidies.

“The defendant said, ‘I will ruin you, I will bury you, I will put you out of business,’” Webbert told the judge. “That’s a lot more than speculation.”

 

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