Large absorbent booms spanned the North Raccoon River in September to contain an oil leak from Krieger Greenhouses on the west side of Jefferson.
Large absorbent booms spanned the North Raccoon River in September to contain an oil leak from Krieger Greenhouses on the west side of Jefferson.
March 21, 2013

The operations manager of a Jefferson greenhouse was accused this month of criminal pollution for the 800 gallons of oil that spilled from his business into the North Raccoon River in September.

Kurt Krieger, 53, of Jefferson, is charged with negligence in discharging a pollutant into a waterway, according to court records. He faces up to a year in jail if convicted.

The oil leaked from the open spigot of a Krieger Greenhouses oil tank in mid-September. The above-ground tank holds up to 20,000 gallons of used motor oil - which was burned for heat - and about 4,000 gallons remained in the tank, the business reported at the time.

The oil flowed under Westwood Drive through two culverts and seeped into the river.

Workers scrambled for two weeks to remove the 800 gallons of oil, about 4,000 gallons of oily water and tons of dirt and sand from the river and nearby areas in a roughly 15-mile stretch from the west side of Jefferson. They used long, absorbent tubes to dam the river's surface to keep the oil from flowing farther downstream.

"This has been the most labor-intensive spill I've ever seen," Alison Manz, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources officer of 14 years who oversaw the cleanup, said at the time.

The spill was reported on Sept. 13 when a passerby saw oil in the river. Investigators eventually tracked the oil to Krieger Greenhouses.

Ernie Krieger, a co-owner of the business, initially downplayed the pollution in an interview with the Daily Times Herald. He later speculated that teen vandals caused the spill.

Krieger's Greenhouses put advertisements in local newspapers that offered a $500 reward "for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those persons responsible for this act of vandalism."

"We have very strong indications that this might have been done intentionally," Andy Krieger, a co-owner of Krieger's Greenhouses, told the Times Herald last year.

Andy Krieger alleged that high school students opened water spigots at houses in nearby neighborhoods that week, and that "there's a good chance" the students opened the valve on the tank as well.

But Jefferson Police Chief David Morlan has said the allegation lacks evidence.

The spill was reported Sept. 13. Three days before, some students threw toilet paper in trees, soaped windows, damaged property and turned on water valves in the town, school officials wrote in an email to parents and others on Sept. 11. There were no further reports of homecoming-related vandalism.

Morlan said the vandals targeted teachers, and that it's unlikely they would have passed by the oil tank, which he said is tucked behind the greenhouses.

"You can't see it from the road," he said at the time.

Krieger Greenhouses paid for less than a week's worth of cleanup before its insurance company declined to pay for further work, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments took over the cleanup thereafter. They used federal money earmarked for oil spills to finish the job.

Krieger Greenhouses faced fines of up to $10,000 from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and unspecified fines from the EPA.

No fish kills were reported, but two birds were found with oil on them.

It's unclear what role Kurt Krieger might have played in the oil leak. The Iowa Attorney General's Office filed the charges, and court document details are sparse.

Krieger is set to appear in Greene County District Court on Monday.