SAINT JOHN – A provincial court judge sentenced Irving Pulp and Paper Monday to pay $3.5-million in penalties after the company pleaded guilty to three counts of effluent discharges into the St. John River.
The company entered the guilty pleas October 9 but Judge David Walker reserved his decision until Monday on the joint recommendation of crown and defence lawyers, which he accepted with one key amendment to the original agreement.
When the agreement was originally presented to the court in October, one-third of the $3.5-million penalty was to be dedicated to wild Atlantic salmon research and conservation through CAST (Collaboration for Atlantic Salmon Tomorrow), a non-profit organization with projects on the Miramichi River.
In the month since that agreement was reached, the joint recommendation was amended to direct the $1.16-million instead to the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick.
CBC Saint John has since published stories that highlight the close connection between CAST and J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI), the parent company of Irving Pulp and Paper. James Irving, co-CEO of JDI, is the chair of CAST and Andrew Willett, a JDI Woodlands manager, is the executive director.
In a release, Irving Pulp and Paper said it’s pleased the judge accepted the amended joint recommendation that will see scientists at UNB administer the $1.16-million research fund. Mark Mosher, Vice President of Irving Pulp and Paper, also took issue with the CBC stories.
“Dr. Allen Curry, the highly qualified research team at UNB and the Canadian Rivers Institute are active and vital contributors to wild Atlantic salmon research and conservation today,” said Mosher.
They will ensure this important work continues. Our focus is on the fish, not CBC’s anti-Irving bias and deliberately one-sided and inaccurate coverage that does nothing to help wild Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick.”
The remaining $2.34 million will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.
Irving will also build a new treatment plant
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 the court hearing in October, 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.
At the October hearing, 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.