PORTLAND (AP) – The state’s largest blueberry grower has agreed to stop aerial spraying that environmental groups contended was violating the Clean Water Act and polluting lakes and streams, officials said Monday.

Four groups accused Cherryfield Foods Inc. of running afoul of the law.

Whenever the pesticides it sprayed on its blueberry fields blew into surrounding lakes and streams.

The groups, which threatened to sue, want the government to regulate aerial pesticide spraying under the Clean Water Act.

In a letter, Cherryfield Foods said it has refined its practices and does not plan to do any aerial spraying next year.

“We are confident that this program eliminates the possibility of any direct discharges into navigable waterways,” Cherryfield President Ragnar Kamp wrote in the letter to a lawyer for the National Environmental Law Center.

The environmental groups commended Cherryfield Foods’ move.

“By abandoning aerial spraying, Cherryfield Foods will set an example we hope will become the new standard in the blueberry industry and for other agricultural activities,” said Will Everitt, field director of Toxics Action Center.

Cherryfield denied its actions violated the Clean Water Act and contended that it followed EPA guidelines and filed an appropriate drift management plan with the state pesticide control board.

Nonetheless, it said it had refined its application of pesticides and is now using a large boom sprayer.

The company’s response came just days before a 60-day notice required for suing under the Clean Water Act was to pass.

Kamp suggested that the company would have been willing to work with the environmental groups without the threat of a lawsuit.

He suggested that there may be other growers for whom aerial spraying is still necessary. He urged the environmental groups to try to work with those growers before resorting to the courts.

“Down East, many people think that it is a good idea to chat some before filing a lawsuit,” he wrote.

AP-ES-10-04-04 1553EDT

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