An Aquilini company charged with illegally pumping water from the North Alouette River has been fined $1,000 and agreed to make a $54,000 payment to an environmental fund.
The penalty was a joint submission from both sides in the case, prosecutor Jim Macaulay said Thursday in Port Coquitlam provincial court.
All charges laid in 2011 under the Fisheries Act and the Water Act – against Elisa, Francesco, Paulo and Roberto Aquilini, CPI – Cranberry Plantation, Global Coin Corp., other numbered companies and farm manager Richard Matis – have been dropped.
Instead, only a guilty plea from a related numbered company, 374917 B.C. Ltd., to illegally pumping water under the Water Act, was entered.
The charges stem from June 2009, when a water intake pipe was installed into the river and water pumped, between a million and 1.5 million gallons, to keep a field of cranberry plants alive during a hot, dry spring.
“There was no demonstrable, environmental damage as a result of this,” said Macaulay said.
The disruption to the side channel of the North Alouette was “minimal,” he added.
Golden Eagle Group, the umbrella company that’s part of the Aquilini Investment Group – which also owns the Vancouver Canucks – had applied for six water licences in 2007. It needed approval from the City of Pitt Meadows to bring the pipe across the top of the dike.
The city granted that approval, but authorization hadn’t come yet from the water stewardship division of the Ministry of Environment for the water licence.
But a hot, dry summer made it imperative to get water on to young plants in May and June 2009.
And the farm manager thought that the approval from the city to cross the dike was sufficient to allow installation of the pipe into the river.
Starting June 5, 2009, between a million and a million and a half gallons were pumped into the field west of 216th Street, near the North Alouette River.
Macaulay said Matis thought he had complete approval, “but found later, it wasn’t.”
Judge Deidre Pothecary, though, wanted to know if the manager was taking his orders from company headquarters.
“This isn’t somebody telling him what to do and keeping him in the dark?”
But she was told he was the general manager of the farm.
Defence lawyer Alan Blair said that Golden Eagle was saving about three weeks of court time by pleading guilty.
He added that a letter from the B.C. Ministry of Environment to Fisheries and Oceans Canada arrived late and may have contributed to the water withdrawal because the latter wasn’t able to respond.
The decision to install the pump and move water wasn’t “willful or blatant,” but just to get water on to the plants.
Blair said the environment ministry later issued temporary water licences to Golden Eagle Group for the same location, and expects more to be issued soon on a year-to-year basis.
The judge supported the Crown and defence’s request for the $1,000 fine and payment of $54,000, which will go to the province’s Habitat Conservation and Trust Foundation, to ensure the money doesn’t go into general revenue.
Pothecary, at the start of the hearing ,wanted to know why the Aquilinis named in the charges weren’t in court.
Blair said company CEOs rarely appear for regulatory offences.
However, John Negrin, president of Aquilini Renewable Energy, was in court for the decision.
Blair said Negrin is now in charge of regulatory matters for the company and shares the same floor as the Aquilinis at the company office.
“The company now has a person who is well skilled and able to manage this,” Blair said.
“The community has the right to expect that environmental regulations will be followed. We know we need to do better. The court’s message will be delivered promptly.”