The Golden Eagle Group has installed another pipe along the Alouette River

Restitution payment for Water Act violations received

Farm company indirectly associated with Aquilini Investment Group pays $54,000 on same day a story was published about amount being overdue

  • Sep. 19, 2013 4:00 p.m.

A court-ordered payment of $54,000 for Water Act infractions by a farm company indirectly affiliated with the Aquilini Investment Group of companies in Pitt Meadows was paid on Sept. 13.

The same day, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News reported that the payment $54,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation was overdue. The payment was to have been made in January.

Company spokesman John Negrin said on Sept. 12 that he believed the conservation payment portion had been paid, and would look into it.

“Upon learning that it was not paid, we promptly paid it,” said Negrin, who is president of Aquilini Renewable Energy.

“It was never our intention not to pay that. In fact, we had negotiated with the Crown to settle this incident and make restitution like that – toward an environmental cause.”

Negrin explained that the $1,000 fine portion had been paid promptly because it was handled through the courts, and the company received documents and instructions on how it should be handled.

The $54,000 payment was arranged by Crown counsel and the defendant’s lawyer, but there was no restitution file generated in the courts to track the payment, or give instructions on how it should be paid.

“It was a miscommunication between the parties,” said Negrin.

He added that in no way “has the organization or family looked to avoid the fine, or not fulfill its obligations under the negotiated settlement.”

The numbered company, 374917 BC Ltd., pleaded guilty to an offence under the Water Act. Crown entered a stay of proceedings in charges against Elisa, Paulo, Roberto and Francesco Aquilini, as well as other related companies.

The charges first arose in 2009, after the company pumped four to five million litres of water from the North Alouette River onto berry crops that were threatened by drought, before it received final government approval. The company later received a water licence for the same property.

Negrin said 374917 is “a numbered company that’s registered under the GERI [Golden Eagle Ranch Inc.] farm group.”

Golden Eagle is part of the Aquilini Investment Group, the same company that owns the Vancouver Canucks.

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation will now award the funds to a successful applicant.

Foundation CEO Brian Springinotic said the cheque arrived Tuesday, and his group will conduct a science-based review of proposals to restore or enhance wetland or riparian habitat in the area where the offence took place.

“We’re looking forward to seeing some very strong proposals coming from that part of the world,” he said.

Greta Borick-Cunningham of the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS) said her group will try to partner with other government agencies or environmental organizations to expand the scope of whatever project is undertaken.

“The idea is to be able to leverage that [$54,000] to get other groups and other funding in the project,” she said.

Negrin also responded to criticism of another application by Golden Eagle to pump water from Blaney Creek, to be used for irrigating 200 acres of young cranberry plants.

He wanted to assure the public and local environmental groups that the company is diligent, and developing a water management master plan in consultation with the Ministry of Environment and City of Pitt Meadows. That plan will see the company record and report all water usage.

What’s more, he said of all the farms that pump surface water for crops in Pitt Polder, he believes Golden Eagle is on the leading edge of water conservation.

In addition to only pumping at high tide, when the water system is fully charged, the company uses a Hortau irrigation management system. It uses sensors in the soil under the plants to measure the moisture there, and combines this information with weather reporting to determine when to water.

“We predict and apply only the water that’s needed,” said Negrin.

Golden Eagle uses a drip irrigation system on the blueberries to use less water, and a water recapture system that recycles 70 per cent of the water used for irrigation.

The system, which also measures nutrients in the soil, cost more than $2 million in the first phase, and Negrin says it makes Golden Eagle a participant in leading edge practices known in the industry as precision farming.

“We’re committed to doing the right thing,” he said.

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