Celgar fined $150,000 for effluent spill from 2008

Zellstoff-Celgar found out the extend of the penalties laid out in the court case resulting from a pollution spill from November of 2008.

Zellstoff-Celgar found out the extend of the penalties laid out in the court case resulting from a pollution spill from November of 2008.

The company was fined $10,000 in each of three cases for a total of $30,000. They were also forced to pay $120,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund. In addition, they must publish on their website the fact that they violated their environmental permits.

The penalties were read by Judge Lisa Mrozinski, who presided over the case, at the Castlegar Court House on Wednesday.

Mrozinksi delivered the verdict in Castlegar court on Feb. 16 where she convicted the mill of depositing effluent that was lethal to trout in the Columbia River. She also found the company guilty on two other counts related to their permitted effluent levels.

The judge found that while there was no proof that Zellstoff-Celgar caused any harm to the environment during the spill, there was the potential for harm.

The Crown was asking for fines of $600,000. The maximum fine was  $2.7 million.

“I think we need to take a good read of the discussion and discuss it more with our counsel,” Fiona Mackay, environmental superintendent for Zellstoff-Celgar. “One thing I’m pleased with is where the funds will be distributed. The majority will be spent on the Columbia River with environmental studies. I’m happy about that. The rest of the decision, we’ll have another read and discuss it with our counsel at this time.”

The total discharge by the pulp mill during the five days from Nov. 20-25, 2008 was 500 million litres into the Columbia River.

“These are the first environmental charges that we’ve received,” she said. “Despite the non-compliances that her honour mentioned, we have been doing a lot of work to mitigate the problems we were having with our treatment system.”

Although the maximum fine was almost $3 million and the total fines Zellstoff-Celgar received was $150,000, Mackay thought the fines were excessive.

“These are our first fines and I find them high,” she said. “I think the bar is set high in comparison to what other pulp mills are seeing. It’s in that range.”

Since the spill in 2008 Zellstoff-Celgar has made a lot of changes at the pulp mills, says Mackay.

“We’ve done quite a lot,” she said. “The health of our treatment system is considerably improved. We’ve put in a lot of procedures and measures to protect the Columbia River. We won’t see an incident like this happen again.”

Kevin Anderson, managing director of operations for Zellstoff-Celgar, would not rule out an appeal. “We’ve heard and understand the sentencing,” he said. “We’re going to take some time to review the sentencing reasons with our counsel and see what direction we take from here.”

Environment Canada enforcement officer Darin Conroy stood behind the judge’s decision.

“In sentencing and throughout the trial the judge did a very good job of understanding what the issues were,” he said. “That’s her decision. She looked at what she thought were the relevant cases and what the defence put forward. I certainly respect that decision.”

Conroy said that the fine designated for the Habitat Wildlife Fund will stay in the region.

“The Crown’s position of the designation of that money was that it was useful to keep those funds within this area,” he said. “Those funds will be designated for fish habitat protection enhancement work along the Columbia River, water quality monitoring at the Columbia. Trying to keep that money in the area where the offences took place.”

Conroy is pleased with the efforts Zellstoff-Celgar has made since the spill.

“There’s always the potential for something to happen again,” he said. “But I’m confident Celgar will take measures to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. On an ongoing basis, both Environment Canada and the Ministry of Environment do inspections at the pulp mill. So we’re aware of the condition of the spill ponds and how the mill is operating. Certainly the management of the spill ponds, in my opinion, has been significantly better post-incident. So that’s an indication to me that they took this quite seriously.”

Zellstoff-Celgar has 30 days to pay all fines and/or to appeal the penalties.