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Judge fines Regional District of North Okanagan $18,540
The Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) was fined more than $18,000 in Vernon Court Thursday, its punishment for being found guilty of four counts in connection with the contamination of the Antwerp Springs Water System in Coldstream in January 2012.
Judge Mayland McKimm accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence that called for the regional district to pay a total of $18,540 in fines and donations to the Habitat Conservative Trust Funds, which deals with environmental matters.
“The penalty here for RDNO should be greater than the penalty for the District of Coldstream that was operating the water system,” said Crown lawyer Joel Gold. “The RDNO were the owners and managers of the system, they were ultimately responsible for the operation and provision of potable water to the uses of Antwerp Springs. The RDNO has greater responsibility.”
The District of Coldstream pleaded guilty in June 2012 for its role in the contamination case and was fined $16,500 by McKimm, along with a victim fine surcharge of $2,400.
Pan-O-Ramic Farms and its then owner were each fined $1,000 after pleading guilty in June 2012 for its role in the contamination.
They were also ordered to pay $7,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund.
RDNO, on Thursday, was fined $100 on counts one and two, operating a well in a manner to cause adverse impact and introducing foreign matter into a well, along with a victim surcharge fine of $15.
For each count, the regional district was ordered to pay $7,200 to the trust fund.
On counts three and four, allowing contamination of drinking water and failing to provide potable water, the regional district was fined $1,700 on each count and ordered to pay the victim surcharge of $255 on each count.
One of the main issues in the case was that for more than a decade, RDNO was aware there were significant issues to a cross connection between drainage system around the Antwerp Springs well site and the well itself.
On a number of separate of occasions they were given directions to install a back flow preventor to contain this risk. As McKimm pointed out in his judgement, they did not do so.
The well has since been decommissioned and permanently closed.
What they did do, however, once the contamination came to light, was spring into immediate action.
The good faith, hard work, dedication and commitment shown by RDNO and District of Coldstream staff following the incident, plus the costs RDNO spent to investigate what happened, played a role in Thursday’s fine being significantly reduced.
Gold said Crown would have been seeking a penalty of around $50,000.
“In light of the good faith shown by the regional district, the emergency plan they had in place, the genuine considered intent by those working at the time for RDNO to reduce the actual risk after the very significant incident, as well as lack of any actual gross negligence or intent or neglect by those working for RDNO in the area that covers this well system, it’s appropriate the fine is what we suggest,” said Gold.
RDNO administrator Trafford Hall accepted the fine and the guilty verdicts.
“Given that we were found guilty, we find the sentence fair and reasonable,” said Hall.
RDNO is estimated to have spent nearly $300,000 on the case, both in its investigation, closing the well and legal fees.
Hall said there is no regret to pleading not guilty.
“You cannot plead guilty to anything you don’t honestly believe you’re guilty from. That was the advice from our lawyers,” said Hall.
“You must actually say you’re guilty. We honestly believed we were not guilty. We’ve been found guilty. We accept that decision and the fine.”
McKimm gave RDNO until May 1, 2014 to pay the fine.
Sentencing in the case was delayed twice, once due to a conflict in schedules, the other because McKimm had been upset with comments he heard on the radio from a person he believed to be the chairperson of the RDNO, allegedly unhappy with McKimm’s ruling.
After an explanation from defence lawyer Rob Bruneau on the matter, McKimm accepted that the comments may have been misquoted or misheard.