PRESQUE ISLE – A Fort Fairfield potato-packing company has paid $19,000 in fines for civil violations of state potato-inspection laws dating back two years.
Weatherhead Potato Corp. was charged with 18 counts of failing to have potatoes inspected, four counts of violating state laws governing agriculture and animals, and three counts of refusing to allow an inspector access to inspect potatoes.
Carrie Linthicum, Aroostook County assistant district attorney, said Tuesday that the fine, which was the result of a settlement negotiated earlier this year, had been paid.
The total fines that initially had been levied by the court before the settlement came to $228,000.
The charges were filed last August by the state Attorney General’s Office for violations dating back to Jan. 15, 2001, and running through July 10, 2002.
Peter Jandreau, an inspector with the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Rural Resources Department, issued the complaints.
According to court documents, Weatherhead shipped about 566,000 pounds of table stock potatoes over the course of a seven-month period which “had not been inspected and determined at the point of origin by a duly-authorized inspector to have met the standards required by law.”
The complaint did not say the potatoes failed to meet standards, but only that it had not been determined if they did or not.
Three times in May 2002, an inspector was refused access to a building where potatoes were packed, stored or offered for sale.
The state has had a mandatory inspection law since 1996.
“That is your quality control,” Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said Tuesdayabout the inspections. “That is essential to your being competitive in the marketplace.”
He said that while the law was initially controversial and there continue to be a few farmers who don’t like it, “personally, I think it has gone a long way to improving the image of the Maine potato industry.”
Company owner Frank Weatherhead said Tuesday that he is not the only farmer who has shipped potatoes that weren’t inspected.
He said, however, that he was targeted for prosecution.
“It’s all political,” he said, adding that other farmers have settled quietly behind closed doors.
The problem, he said, is the state’s mandatory inspection law.
“We’re the only state in the country that has mandatory inspections,” he said.
He said all of the potatoes he has ever shipped always passed inspection at the point of delivery, and there has never been an issue of quality.
“The inspectors at the other end never had a problem,” he said. “The problem we have is with the state [of Maine] inspectors.”