ST. PAUL -- Bushmills Ethanol Inc. of Atwater has paid an $800,000 civil penalty for wastewater treatment violations for discharging wastewater containing unpermitted levels of dissolved minerals -- salts -- and other pollutants and then providing inaccurate information about the discharges at the company's ethanol production facility in Atwater. The discharges were not authorized in its wastewater permit, according to information released Friday by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Bushmills did not respond to a request for comment.
The violations occurred from 2008 to 2011. They were discovered through on-site inspections by MPCA enforcement staff and through analysis of monitoring data the company is required to submit under its wastewater discharge permit.
The penalty was part of an enforcement agreement the company and the MPCA signed on March 28. Although the agreement covers a number of violations, the primary ones -- and the reason the penalty was so high -- relate to misleading information provided by the company and filed in regard to the operation of its wastewater treatment plant.
The MPCA issued the facility a wastewater discharge permit on April 3, 2007, which contained a requirement for the company to install a wastewater treatment system and have it operating in compliance with water quality standards by Aug. 15, 2008. The company certified in several later submissions to the MPCA that system installation was on schedule and the discharges were meeting standards, when in fact the system had not been operating properly since startup and continued to be out of compliance through 2009.
The Bushmills facility discharges wastewater to Judicial Ditch 17, which flows about 10 miles to the Middle Fork of the Crow River. The potential environmental impacts of the illegal discharges could be to harm fish and other aquatic organisms, not only in the ditch but potentially in the Crow River and other waters downstream.
According to an MPCA investigator involved with the case, "the receiving water that the regulated party discharges to is a very low-flow/headwaters type stream, with very little and at times no dilution; therefore, the relative sensitivity of the receiving water is relatively high."
In addition to paying the civil penalty, the company agreed to a compliance schedule for completing corrective actions, including specific plans on how it will ensure compliance with the facility's environmental permit limits and prevent reoccurrence of the violations in the future.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected the environment, whether they were first-time or repeat violations, and how promptly they were reported to appropriate authorities. Penalties also attempt to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner. For a comprehensive list of enforcement actions by the MPCA, go to the agency's Web site at www.pca.state.mn.us/newscenter/enforcement.html.