HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Today, David K. Smith, 69, of Paducah, Kentucky, was sentenced to one year and six months of federal probation, including six months on home detention, and River Marine Enterprises LLC and Western River Assets LLC were each fined $100,000 and placed on corporate probation for five years for discharge of refuse into navigable waters. The defendants were also ordered to pay $1,856,957.92 in restitution. The defendants admitted to roles in the January 2018 discharge of oil into the Big Sandy River.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Smith was the sole owner and officer of both River Marine Enterprises and Western River Assets, and was responsible for the operation of both companies. Western River Assets owned a towboat, the Gate City, that docked along the West Virginia shore of the Big Sandy River from at least 2010 until January 2018. River Marine Enterprises operated the Gate City during this time.

On or about January 10, 2018, the Gate City sank while docked, discharging oil and other substances into the Big Sandy River. The oil left a sheen on the river and oily deposits beneath the surface. As a direct result of the Gate City’s sinking and oil spill, the City of Kenova, West Virginia, closed its municipal drinking water intake for three days and various regulatory agencies took actions and expended resources to respond to the spill.

Smith admitted that at the time of the January 2018 sinking and spill, he had yet to comply with an administrative order issued by the United States Coast Guard on December 5, 2017, requiring Smith to remove all oil and hazardous materials from the Gate City. The Coast Guard issued the administrative order following an inspection of the Gate City in or about November 2017. The administrative order said in part that the Gate City presented an “imminent and substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the environment because of a threatened discharge of oil from the vessel.”

Smith further admitted that River Marine Enterprises had contracted with a qualified business to remove oil from the Gate City, but that the contractor was not able to access the Gate City safely to remove the oil prior to January 10, 2018 because of site conditions.

“This crime could have easily been prevented. Instead, Mr. Smith left an unseaworthy vessel moored in the Big Sandy for eight years and took no action to remove the hazard it posed to the water quality of the river,” said United States Attorney Will Thompson. “This criminal conduct caused real harm to communities downriver and worsened the pollution of an already strained river system. It also cost the Coast Guard over $1.8 million to remediate the damage caused by the sinking of the vessel and the resulting discharge of oil.”

Thompson made the announcement and commended the investigative work of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA CID). Thompson also commended the U.S. Coast Guard, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia National Guard and other responders for their efforts to contain and clean up the oil spill.

“By failing to maintain the condition of his towboat, the defendant blatantly ignored the environmental impact his actions would cause,” said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon of EPA’s criminal investigation program in West Virginia. “This sentencing demonstrates that EPA will hold those who deliberately violate the Refuse Act accountable.”

United States District Judge Robert C. Chambers imposed the sentence. Assistant United States Attorney Erik S. Goes and Special Assistant United States Attorney Perry McDaniel prosecuted the case.

On May 5, 2022, the Department launched the Office of Environmental Justice and announced a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy. Enforcement of this strategy relies upon meaningful engagement and transparency with impacted communities regarding environmental justice issues, efforts, and results.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia enforces federal laws to protect environmental quality and human health in all communities within the district. In coordination with components of the Justice Department, the United States Attorney’s Office will hold polluters accountable for their actions, prioritizing cases that will reduce public health and environmental harms to overburdened and underserved communities. More information is available on the Environmental Justice and Enforcement page of the website for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.

The United States Attorney’s Office encourages the public to report suspected environmental violations within the district. Reports may be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency or by email, mail, or phone to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *