Temple Inland pleads guilty in fish kill case
Published 1:00 am Friday, February 15, 2013
The Delaware corporation located in Austin, Texas, pled guilty to negligently causing the discharge of a pollutant from its Bogalusa facility into the Pearl River and to the negligent taking of fish from the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, announced United States Attorney Dana Boente.
Temple Inland pled guilty before U. S. District Court Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle to a two-count Bill of Information charging it with one misdemeanor count for the negligent violation of the Clean Water Act and one misdemeanor count for the negligent violation of the Refuge Act. The maximum penalty Temple Inland faces for the CWA violation is a fine of up to $200,000 and a term of probation up to five years. The maximum penalty for the Refuge Act violation is a fine of up to $10,000 per taking. Sentencing has been scheduled for May 1 at 2 p.m.
Boente said protecting the natural resources of Louisiana for the use of sportsmen and future generations is an important mission of his office.
“A corporation’s negligent behavior has serious consequences,” he said.
Court documents show the charges stem from a release of a pollutant into the Pearl River in August 2011 which resulted in a large fish kill. Temple Inland was required by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to possess and operate the Bogalusa Facility pursuant to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit. The permit imposed limitations on the amount of pollutants that could be discharged from the Bogalusa Facility into the Pearl River, a navigable water of the United States.
Additionally, the permit required that Temple Inland maintain a certain Biological Oxygen Demand level, which directly affects the amount of dissolved oxygen in rivers and streams. The greater the BOD, the more rapidly oxygen is depleted in rivers and streams. This means less oxygen is available to fish and higher forms of aquatic life. The consequences of high BOD are the same as those for low dissolved oxygen: aquatic organisms become stressed, suffocate and die.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 2011, and again late on Aug. 9, 2011, a piece of equipment called an “evaporator” became clogged. As a result of the clogged evaporator, an extremely excessive quantity of liquor overflowed from the boil-out tank. The liquor flowed out of the containment area to the wastewater treatment plant and effluent pond and ultimately into the Pearl River. The discharge reached the Pearl River sometime beginning Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011, and continued to at least Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, when the facility was shut down.
Temple Inland admitted Thursday the discharge of the liquor resulted in a fish-kill in the Pearl River of over 500,000 fish due to high level of BOD.
The Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, a federal wildlife refuge created in 1980 and encompassing 36,000 acres of the Pearl River Basin, is located northeast of Slidell, in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the Pearl River and its tributaries run through the refuge. The National Wildlife Refuge System comprises a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The National Wildlife Refuge System law enacted by Congress prohibits the disturbance, injury or destruction of property and the taking of fish on a National Wildlife Refuge.
Temple Inland admitted in court it negligently caused the taking of fish from the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge. On Aug. 15, 2011, black water, dead fish and mussels were observed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in waters on the Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge. All fish observed were intact and included recognizable species such as catfish, sturgeon and fresh water drum. Mussels were seen intact with their shells floating in the water. Many were floating in the center of the water, and others were grouped and caught by branches in the water. The numbers of fresh dead fish and mussels seen in refuge waters within the water body known as the Government Ditch equaled 1,000 or more each.
“This plea agreement is a testament to the hard work of many agencies,” said Peggy Hatch, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. “From the beginning of this event when we were in emergency response phase through the investigation, the state and federal government have worked together to reach a conclusion, while also working with the company to ensure the Pearl River remains a healthy waterway.”
“This country’s environmental laws are aimed at keeping inland waterways from becoming dumping grounds for waste materials,” added Ivan Vikin, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana. “The negligent discharge of a pollutant killed a large number of fish, including a protected species of sturgeon. (Thursday’s) action is the direct result of the strong working relationship that EPA enjoys with our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local level.”
The case was investigated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency – Criminal Investigative Division and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality – Criminal Investigative Division and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dorothy Manning Taylor and Spiro Latsis.