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Court reverses McWane conviction involving Birmingham plant

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — A federal appeals court struck down the convictions of pipe manufacturer McWane Inc. and three executives for environmental crimes involving the company's Birmingham plant.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the company and Charles Robinson, vice president of environmental affairs, of a 2005 conviction that they filed a false report with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The appeals court's order Wednesday called for a new trial for the Birmingham-based company and two co-defendants, former plant managers James Delk and Michael Devine, on convictions that they conspired to violate the federal Clean Water Act and discharged pollutants from McWane Cast Iron Pipe plant into Avondale Creek in north Birmingham.

A jury convicted the company and the three executives in a trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Propst. The judge ordered the company to pay a $5 million fine. Delk, Devine and Robison were sentenced to serve probation and pay fines ranging from $2,500 to $90,000.

In a 45-page decision, the 11th Circuit said the judge gave an erroneous definition of "navigable water" during instructions to the trial jury. The court noted that after the McWane convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court provided clearer definitions of "navigable waters."

Defense lawyers argued Avondale Creek is not a "navigable water" within the Clean Water Act's meaning. Prosecutors contended Avondale Creek's connection with the Black Warrior River makes the creek a navigable water.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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