NW Minn. companies hit with environmental penalties in 2022
Last year, the state Pollution Control Agency closed nearly 300 enforcement cases
MOORHEAD — Seven companies in northwest Minnesota received penalties over $5,000 in 2022 for violating environmental regulations, joining 45 other companies across Minnesota.
Last year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency closed nearly 300 enforcement cases that stemmed from violations of water quality, air quality, waste, stormwater or wastewater regulations.
Penalties in 2022 ranged from zero dollars to just over $5 million. Penalties are determined based on the harm or potential for harm within the violation, the economic benefit the company gained by not complying with environmental laws, and by how the company acted to correct the problem.
In Moorhead, the American Crystal Sugar Company was not sampling its discharges often enough and had eight releases of their wastewater and materials into the environment, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
At the East Grand Forks facility, the company failed to monitor for total and dissolved mercury the appropriate number of times in 2020, and also had eight unauthorized wastewater discharges between 2020 and 2022, the MPCA said.
Both sites exceeded their permitted limits on wastewater discharges several times, the MPCA said. Guidelines regulate wastewater discharges to surface waters and to municipal sewage treatment plants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
American Crystal Sugar was fined $9,900, according to the MPCA.
“American Crystal Sugar Company realizes the importance of these regulations and works diligently with the MPCA to be compliant,” company spokeswoman Belinda Forknell told The Forum in an email. “We continue to invest in our infrastructure and improve our processes to address issues.”
Enbridge Energy received the largest penalty of the year at $5.02 million during the construction of the Line 3 oil pipeline.
The company violated a series of regulations and requirements, according to the MPCA, including discharging construction stormwater into wetlands and releasing drilling mud into surface water at 12 sites during the summer of 2021.
“Enbridge acknowledges it inadvertently breached an aquifer near the Clearbrook Terminal, and Enbridge has worked tirelessly to address the issue in coordination with DNR and other state agencies,” said Enbridge spokeswoman Juli Kellner.
In Detroit Lakes, Hough Inc. was fined just over $10,000 for releasing diesel fuel and burning prohibited materials. This risked soil contamination and the pollution of groundwater and surface water, the MPCA said.
This incident is far from the norm for their company, according to owner Mike Hough.
The 2020 burn in question was largely brush, stumps and trees, Hough asserts, accumulated during the course of their earthwork construction operations.
Every year or so they used to burn that pile, Hough said. In 2020, however, an employee used diesel as an accelerant, drawing the attention of the fire department and sparking the ire of the MPCA.
“Unfortunately our employee that day made a poor decision,” Hough said, noting that as the owner he is responsible for his employees. The company no longer burns woodpiles to avoid similar situations, and compiled wood is now ground up for reuse, he said.
After the incident, the dirt around the site was cleaned up and disposed of properly, according to Hough.
In Detroit Lakes, Lakes Septic Pumping was operating as a septic system service and maintenance provider without a license or insurance, according to the MPCA. Lakes Septic Pumping was penalized $7,505. The Forum was not able to reach the business for comment for this story.
In Underwood, Barry Septic Pumping was operating as a septic system service and maintenance provider without a license or insurance, the MPCA said. It received a fine of $7,510. The Forum's calls to the business went unanswered.
In Menahga, Howards Driveway Inc. had an asphalt drum mix baghouse that was emitting seven times the allowable rate of particulate matter in 2020, according to the MPCA.
The company was back in compliance in 2021, and was required in 2022 to pay $7,600, the MPCA said.
Near Fergus Falls, Green Plains Otter Tail LLC’s ethanol production facility violated its wastewater and stormwater permit multiple times, according to the MPCA. The company was fined $14,812.
The events in question occurred between 2018 and 2020, according to Green Plains spokeswoman Lisa Gibson. Since 2021 the company has had no repeat occurrences, Gibson told The Forum via email.
Often, the offenses in question occurred a while ago because environmental enforcement investigations can take months, or over a year, to conclude, the MPCA said.
“Green Plains is committed to protecting the environment and operating sustainably and with transparency,” Gibson told Agweek in 2022 . “In the past year, Green Plains Otter Tail has taken numerous corrective steps, and has made significant investments in its water treatment system to prevent future permit deviations.”
In addition to issuing penalties, the MPCA said it will provide support and information to help companies stay in compliance with environmental regulations.
A previous version of this story gave an incorrect time frame for the events for which Green Plains was penalized. The events in question occurred between 2018 and 2020, according to Green Plains. The story has also been revised to note the date of the quote from company spokeswoman Lisa Gibson.