DeKALB - The horse slaughterhouse run by Cavel International has paid $5,500 in fines for violating the terms of its sewage discharge permit in 11 of 12 months last year. The violations have continued this year, according to Cavel plant Manager Jim Tucker and DeKalb Sanitary District Manager Mike Zima, as Cavel has held off on making improvements to an on-site sewage pretreatment system in the face of congressional action that could bar horse slaughter entirely. The plant does not pose a public health risk or hinder the sanitary district's operations, according to Zima. He said the fines were levied because Cavel has exceeded the amount of biodegradable waste and ammonia - byproducts of the horse-slaughtering process - that it can send into the sewage system under the terms of its permit. The plant's waste also has violated a pH guideline. “I understand that they're in a difficult pickle right now,” Zima said, referring to the fight in Congress to ban horse slaughter. “They were kind of waiting to see which way the wind's going to blow.” An agriculture spending bill signed into law earlier this year includes a provision to pull funding for federal horse meat inspectors, a move that slaughter opponents hoped would be a back-door way of ending horse slaughter. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would provide the inspectors on a fee-for-service basis, thus allowing slaughter to continue. Last month, animal rights groups and citizens with experience living near horse slaughterhouses, including one former DeKalb resident, filed suit to stop the inspections. The matter remains in federal court. Cavel is one of only three plants in the United States that slaughters horses for human consumption overseas. The other two are in Texas. Tucker said it was only in the last week or so that Cavel has felt it would make sense to spend what could be as much as $500,000 on improvements to the plant's pretreatment system. “We're not waiting anymore,” he said. If the decision to go ahead is made this month, the upgrades could be completed by the end of August, he said. He also contended that “our effluent has been better these last few months than it was a year ago.” Cavel holds one of seven industrial-waste discharge permits issued by the DeKalb Sanitary District. The slaughterhouse was the only one of the seven industrial users to have what the district terms “significant” violations last year. It also paid a $500 fine in 2004 for similar violations. The president of the sanitary district's board of trustees, Dennis Collins, said this morning that the board is looking at increasing the fines Cavel must pay if it doesn't get the problems at its plant fixed. “One of our concerns is that it wasn't moving in the right direction,” Collins said. Zima said the district can levy a fine of up to $1,000 a day for days on which a violation occurs. Collins also noted, however, that the increased discharge from the plant is not putting a strain on operations at the district's treatment plant. Chris Rickert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.