Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Humboldt Company Fined $2M for Clean Water Act Violations

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2021 at 11:20 AM

A U.S. District Court judge this week ordered a Humboldt County company to pay just more than $2 million in civil penalties for discharging pollutants into Hall Creek, a tributary to the Mad River, in violation of the Clean Water Act and for noncompliance with state and federal pollution control measures.

According to the May 2 order signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Kernen Construction Co. admitted to “the key allegations in the complaint" filed by the Arcata-based Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.

The fines, according to the order, were for 9,461 violations in connection with the company’s facility at 2350 Glendale Drive in McKinleyville, with 11 related to polluted storm water discharge and the remainder for failure to comply with “plans, technologies, monitoring and other preventative procedures and mechanisms” required by the state and the Clean Water Act.

“The Court finds these violations to be serious, as CAT has shown that (1) the water sampling data shows discharges of at least four toxic pollutants (lead, copper, pentachlorophenol, and zinc) that are harmful to animal and human life; and (2) the degree to which the discharges exceed EPA standards is significant,” Rogers wrote in reference to the discharges.

The fines were applied to violations dating back to November of 2017.

“That a small and endangered population of salmon still hangs on in Hall Creek is something to treasure and protect from toxic pollutants,” said CATs Executive Director Patty Clary said in a release. “This $2 million penalty should send the message that whether a stream supports fish or provides drinking water or other benefit, it is a public resource, not a dumping ground for industries looking to enhance their bottom line.”


Read the full CATs release below:

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Sunday ordered a Humboldt County construction company to pay $2,087,750 in civil penalties to the federal government for discharge of stormwater laden with toxic chemicals to a salmon-bearing stream without undertaking pollution control measures required by the Clean Water Act.

Arcata-based Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) brought the litigation against Kernen Construction Co. in McKinleyville for on-going discharge of pollutants at levels exceeding those set by regulators into a small stream that flows into Hall Creek, a tributary to the Mad River.

Of toxic pollutants found in samples Kernen must submit to regional water regulators are aluminum, which inhibits the ability of fish to breathe through their gills, at average concentrations 3,742 % above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency benchmark, and iron averaging 5,449 % above the benchmark. Among other pollutants found in water samples is pentachlorophenol, a highly toxic legacy chemical of former mill operations that killed more than 30,000 fish in Hall Creek and the lower Mad River in 1967. Hall Creek has since been listed as critical habitat for endangered salmon.

“That a small and endangered population of salmon still hangs on in Hall Creek is something to treasure and protect from toxic pollutants,” said Patty Clary, Executive Director of CATs. “This $2 million penalty should send the message that whether a stream supports fish or provides drinking water or other benefit, it is a public resource, not a dumping ground for industries looking to enhance their bottom line.”

Kernen Construction, located a few hundred yards north of the Mad River between McKinleyville and Blue Lake on Glendale Drive, admitted in court to on-going violations of the Clean Water Act from November 14, 2017 to the present. Judge Gonzalez Rogers determined that 9,461 violations by Kernen are on record for this period.

“The court roundly rejected Defendants’ arguments that the violations were minor, sending a clear message to the regulated community that they will be punished for violating our nation’s water quality laws,” said attorney Andrew Packard, who represents Plaintiff CATs in the Clean Water Act litigation against Kernen.

Referring also to a settlement of a lawsuit brought by CATs in 2016 against Kernen Construction for violations similar to those claimed in the current litigation, Bill Verick, attorney for Plaintiff CATs, said “This is the second go-round with this company and the second time they ignored their duty to come up with better pollution control when they exceeded EPA benchmarks. Hopefully, a $2 million fine will get their attention. If not, we’ll be back for a third go-round.”

Attorney William N. Carlon of The Law Offices of Andrew L. Packard also represents Plaintiff CATs.

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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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