SAINT JOHN – Irving Pulp & Paper (IPP) pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to three counts of effluent discharges into the Saint John River, and will pay $3.5-million in penalties related to the offences.
Judge David Walker reserved his decision until November 5 on the joint recommendation of crown and defence lawyers, saying it was a complicated matter he needed time to think through.
As a precondition to the agreement between the crown and defence, IPP will also build an effluent treatment facility, something the company says it chose not to do more than 20 years ago because of objections from the mill’s neighbours on the west side of the city.
Instead, it pioneered and patented a system that collects, treats and discharges effluent within the mill and reuses treated effluent and minimizes the final effluent volume and content.
According to the agreed statement of facts, there was no evidence that discharged effluent killed fish or done damage to the river watershed. The charges were based on failed tests on effluent in the mill that required 50 per cent or more of rainbow trout to survive 96 hours in 100 per cent effluent.
The charges under the Fisheries Act stem from incidents that took place from June 2014 to August 2016.
It’s important to the accused, said defence lawyer George Cooper in court, that only “potential harm” was demonstrated, not “actual harm.” He also stressed that IPP had reported each incident and fully cooperated with government officials in the subsequent investigations.
Federal crown prosecutor Paul Adams noted IPP’s “acceptance of responsibility” and “high degree of cooperation” in the investigations and efforts to address issues related to the failed effluent tests.
Adams also acknowledged that “no actual harm” had been demonstrated. But he stressed that given the level of toxicity in the effluent the “potential for harm was significant,” and that a large number of species in the river were “worthy of the highest degree of protection.”
The agreed statement of facts noted that there are 53 species of fish in the river and 28 of them are connected to commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries.
Company officials said environmental protection is a priority for them, too. As part of the agreement, one-third of the $3.5-million penalty would be dedicated to wild Atlantic salmon research and conservation.
“Safeguarding the environment has been and continues to be our top priority,” said IPP Vice President Mark Mosher in a release.
Mary Keith, Vice President of Communications for J.D. Irving Limited, said in an e-mail to Huddle that there is no firm location or timeline for the construction of the effluent treatment facility. But it’s something the company must do by federal law, she says, even if there are objections in the community.
“The multi-million dollar facility is the only option to maintain compliance and the long-term operation of the mill,” she said. “We are at the beginning of the process in terms of site selection, engineering, sizing to meet the needs of the mill and the related process that will involve a full EIA and related public consultation process.”