Two firms in Southeast pay sizable environmental fines

Seafood plant's fish waste, spills at mine targeted by EPA

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ocean Beauty seafood processor and Greens Creek Mine are paying hefty federal fines for dumping waste into waters near Juneau two years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.

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Ocean Beauty's seafood plant at Excursion Inlet, roughly 38 miles northwest of Juneau, allegedly dumped fish carcasses, heads and guts directly into the inlet on July 12, 2004, without grinding them first. The Clean Water Act requires fish waste be ground to 12 inch or smaller before it is released into the water. The dumping, discovered during an unannounced EPA inspection, created scum in the water and on nearby shorelines.

EPA inspectors discovered similar water quality violations at Ocean Beauty's Cordova plant during an August 2004 inspection, and cited both plants for 14 total violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Ocean Beauty agreed to pay a $126,000 fine for the violations in a consent agreement signed in April.

EPA compliance officer Tara Martich, based in Anchorage, said Monday she could not verify whether the violations at Excursion Inlet had been resolved.

"We would expect they would be rectified in future inspections," Martich added.

Seattle-based Ocean Beauty did not immediately respond to calls for comment Monday afternoon.

The Greens Creek Mine, 18 miles southwest of Juneau, and its drilling contractor, Connors Drilling, of Montrose, Colo., also agreed in April to pay a $12,900 fine for two leaks the company reported at a drilling exploration site on Admiralty Island. Both leaks occurred on June 28, 2004.

The first water quality violation occurred when a bucket tipped over, spilling an estimated four gallons of diesel oil into upper Zinc Creek. Zinc Creek is a small stream on the northwest corner of Admiralty Island that does not support salmon, said Greens Creek Mine environmental manager Bill Oelklaus. Greens Creek personnel tracked the resulting diesel sheen on the creek's surface for about a half-mile downstream, Oelklaus said.

Workers mopped up the fuel from the creek's surface and also dug up diesel-contaminated dirt from the spill site. While they were cleaning up the spill they noticed an unusual amount of sediment in Zinc Creek, Oelklaus said.

The workers discovered that a pond they had constructed to trap drilling residue had overflowed and was running into the creek, Oelklaus said. The residue, called drilling mud, is a mixture of drill cuttings, water and a chemical polymer that binds fine particles together during drilling.

After the violations, the mine required Connors Drilling to build a better spill containment system and start ticking down "a large environmental checklist" before each crew starts its work day, Oelklaus said.

"The mining industry is an important part of Alaska's economy, but it must operate responsibly and manage its wastewater in a way that protects the environment," said Kim Ogle, a Seattle-based manager of EPA's regional National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Compliance Unit, in a prepared statement released Monday.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@

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