Darigold pleads guilty in Issaquah Creek spill case

June 21, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Darigold pleaded guilty June 15 to violating the Clean Water Act for a fish-killing ammonia spill into Issaquah Creek.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Darigold plans to work alongside the federal government to develop a corporate environmental compliance plan as part of its sentence.

Including the downtown Issaquah processing facility, Seattle-based Darigold operates 13 processing facilities in five states.

The company must also pay a $10,000 fine and pay $60,000 to protect and restore natural resources in the Issaquah Creek watershed. Darigold also agreed to publicly apologize for the criminal conduct by publishing a statement as a notice or advertisement in The Issaquah Press.

“Issaquah Creek is a place where children learn the importance of protecting our small creeks and watersheds. To protect our heritage, corporations must make environmental protection a priority,” Jenny Durkan, U.S. attorney for Western Washington and Issaquah native, said in a statement. “The corporate environmental compliance plan to which Darigold has committed will require the company to address not only the conduct that led to this spill, but other business practices impacting our environment.”

Prosecutors filed the misdemeanor charges June 14. Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Prosecutors also said Gerald N. Marsland, engineering manager for the Issaquah plant, directed repairs and failed to take steps to prevent the ammonia spill. The incident prompted prosecutors to charge Marsland with negligently discharging a pollutant. Under the Clean Water Act, conviction can result in a fine and a possible prison sentence.

The spill occurred Oct. 7, 2009, during maintenance and repair to the refrigeration system at the downtown Issaquah dairy. State investigators said a crew draining part of the refrigeration system allowed a toxic ammonia solution to flow onto the roof of the creekside building and down a storm drain.

State investigators said about 50 to 70 gallons of the liquid flowed into a storm drain system and discharged into the East Fork of Issaquah Creek.

In the moments after the spill, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife survey team conducting a salmon spawning survey in the creek smelled a strong ammonia odor and observed about 40 to 50 dead fish downstream from the Darigold storm water outfall.

The dead fish included Puget Sound chinook salmon — a species protected under the Endangered Species Act — and coho salmon, trout and sculpin, a small fish. Following the incident, state investigators said the spill had killed mostly sculpin.

Tyler Amon, Environmental Protection Agency special agent-in-charge in the Northwest, called the case a study in negligence.

“This wasn’t just about an individual breaking the law,” he said in a statement. “This was about a completely avoidable chain of events that caused serious environmental harm. When your business is a next-door-neighbor to threatened and endangered species, dumping toxic chemicals brings prosecution and penalties.”

In October 2010, the state Department of Ecology fined Darigold $10,000 for the spill — the maximum penalty under state law.

Following the state penalty, company executives said Darigold updated procedures to prevent similar accidents.

Darigold’s $60,000 community service payment is earmarked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund for projects directly impacting the Issaquah Creek watershed.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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