Darigold pleads guilty to federal polluting charges
Darigold, the Northwest's most recognized dairy cooperative, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Wednesday to two federal charges associated with dumping pollutants into Issaquah Creek and killing fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Seattle Times environment reporter
The dead fish showed up not long after Salmon Days, the annual festival celebrating the return of chinook to the troubled urban stream that cuts through Issaquah.
State biologists that day in October 2009 just happened to be out counting threatened salmon as the fish worked their way up the East Fork of Issaquah Creek. Then the biologists noticed the rank odor of ammonia just below the outfall from a Darigold processing plant — and spotted dead and dying sculpin and trout, and several chinook protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
On Wednesday the Northwest's most recognized dairy cooperative pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to two federal charges associated with dumping pollutants into the creek and killing fish protected under the ESA.
Darigold Inc. signed an agreement that it will pay a $10,000 fine and give $60,000 to a nonprofit foundation to pay for habitat-restoration work. The co-op plans to publish a written apology in an Issaquah newspaper and establish an environmental compliance plan that will detail and address environmental risks at roughly a dozen of its processing plants in five western states.
"We're longtime members of the Issaquah community and we really regret the incident," said Steve Rowe, Darigold senior vice president. "There's nothing about this that makes us happy."
Federal agents with the Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries investigating the smell and dead fish in 2009 eventually learned that Darigold workers repairing the plant's refrigeration system had drained ammonia to a roof that then funneled it into a storm drain and the creek.
While the illegal discharge wasn't standard practice, "we had concerns about Darigold's noncompliance history," said Tyler Amon, special agent in charge of criminal enforcement for the EPA in the Northwest. "When you have corporate entities in the business of maintaining systems that have toxic chemicals, they have to be diligent in their maintenance of those systems."
From Whatcom County to Yakima County, Darigold has paid tens of thousands of dollars in state fines in the last decade for polluting area streams, including spills of overheated wastewater and one of 20,000 gallons of milk.
Amon said prosecuting companies criminally serves as a deterrent and helps maintain a level playing field for other businesses. It also helps the EPA pursue "a more systemic response to these kinds of incidents."
Rowe, at Darigold, said the co-op already has hired additional people to focus on environmental safety and is developing new employee training programs.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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