Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell in October filed suit to require a Rockingham County plant that treats waste from two poultry processors to curb its pollution of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

McDonnell’s lawsuit in Rockingham County Circuit Court followed environmentalists’ notice in August of intent to sue Sheaffer International L.L.C. over the discharging of phosphorous and nitrogen into the branch of the Shenandoah, a Potomac River tributary that has had massive fish kills in recent years.

The attorney general’s complaint said the Timberville plant operated by Sheaffer subsidiary SIL Clean Water exceeded the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous it was allowed into the river by more than 800 percent in 2005 and by more than 200 percent in 2004. The plant has also discharged raw or partially treated sewage into the water, the filing said.

“Our objective is to fix the environmental damage that has been done and to make sure it’s not done again,” said Tucker Martin, a spokesman for McDonnell.

The plant, which opened six years ago, is a state-of-the-art facility that supplies treated wastewater for use as fertilizer to irrigate farmland. The plant treats waste from the towns of Timberville and Broadway as well as poultry processors Pilgrim’s Pride and Cargill.

The company had until early November to file a response.

Thomas Knauer, a Richmond attorney representing SIL Clean Water, said a plan to rectify any noncompliance has been submitted to the state Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA. The company will act quickly once it gets the agency approvals, he said.

“The company has already taken several steps which do not require DEQ approval,” Knauer said in a statement.

Jack Sheaffer, a hydrologist and chairman of Illinois-based Sheaffer International, has said the pollution discharges resulted from a Virginia restriction on the amount of land that could be irrigated.

Water from the plant is currently used to irrigate 530 acres of land, and state DEQ spokesman Bill Hayden said the agency is reviewing SIL Clean Water’s request to add 45 acres.

Bill Gerlach, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, one of three groups that filed the notice of intent to sue under the Clean Water Act, said he learned that the state would take action when the environmentalists met with Sheaffer International officials.

“The whole point of citizen suits is to get government to act, so I’m glad they’re taking the action,” he said.

McDonnell filed suit on behalf of two state agencies, the DEQ and the State Water Control Board. The action also had been requested by the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors and state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

Hayden said the DEQ has been working with Sheaffer International for several years to try to resolve the pollution issue and had discussed the case with the EPA.

The state’s action may preclude a lawsuit by the environmentalists, Gerlach said, but the groups may seek to intervene in the case to ensure that penalties imposed match “the scope of the violations.”

McDonnell’s lawsuit seeks unspecified penalties, in part to recover whatever the company has gained by noncompliance with its discharge permits.

‘The bottom line is we want to see the discharge cleaned up and the river get healthy again,” Gerlach said.

The environmental group American Rivers put the Shenandoah River on its endangered list for the first time this year, citing development as a concern.

Scientists continue to seek the cause of last year’s massive fish kill on the South Fork of the Shenandoah, when 80 percent of the smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish developed lesions that resembled cigar burns and died. A similar kill occurred on the North Fork in 2004.