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Crown, defence present closing arguments in mudslide case

Closing arguments wrapped up on Monday in a court case involving a company accused of causing a mudslide on neighbouring property four years ago.

Auto Body Services Ltd. and its primary shareholder Harry Veenstra are co-accused. They face seven offences under provincial statutes, including the Water Act and the Alberta Environment Protection and Enhancement Act.

After a week of testimony, the Crown and defence presented their closing arguments before Judge Gordon Yake in Red Deer provincial court.

Crown prosecutor Peter Roginski, of Calgary, concluded that Veenstra should be held responsible for the damage caused by the pumping of water from a lease and onto a hayfield, where it pooled and eventually caused an escarpment to fail, partially covering a grain crop on a lower piece of the neighbouring property.

Veenstra denied knowledge or giving direction for the pumping to occur.

The Crown contends that he knew.

Roginski said in his statement to police that Veenstra was helpful and answered questions very quickly until he was confronted with the accusation that he was responsible for the mudslide. Roginski said his demeanour changed to cautious and reserved.

As well, Veenstra denied knowing he needed a permit, but Roginski pointed out that Veenstra had previously obtained a licence to temporarily pump water.

Roginski also contended that even if Veenstra did not order the water pumped off the site, he did nothing to stop it, was wilfully blind to the water being pumped and should still be held responsible for the charges he faces.

Defence counsel pointed to the fact that Veenstra and his company were only leasing the land to Orion, an oilfield rental service. Orion leased 20 acres from Veenstra for oilfield equipment storage, then in turn rented out the land to Apache Oilfield Services.

The agreement started in late spring/early summer of 2010. Equipment operator Brad Larsen was asked by Veenstra and Orion, his employer, to move some topsoil to create a berm at the north and east sides of the property, and create a retention pond in the northeast corner and a drainage ditch along the south side.

By July, Larsen talked with his employer about the heavy rains that filled the site, reaching depths of two to three metres in some places. Court heard that Larsen was told to talk with Veenstra about the water problem. Testimony claimed that Veenstra told Larsen to pump the water eastward into a ditch on the far side of a road that runs along the eastern edge of the property.

Water was pumped from the property from July 15 to 21, 2010. Larsen saw it pooling in the neighbouring field but thought it would dissipate.

No permit was obtained to pump the water.

Defence counsel Sean Moring contended that Veenstra could not be held responsible as he leased out the land and had nothing to do with Larsen’s interaction with his employer. As well, it would have been hard for Veenstra to have known if a licence to pump the water was obtained as all he told Larsen was where to pump it to.

Moring and Roginski also differed on the definition of water and how it fits within the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The charges against Veenstra accuse him of allowing the release of a substance and Roginski contends that the act is deliberately broad so it could include water as a substance. Moring argued the goal of the act was to protect the environment and that water was a naturally occurring part of the environment and the terminology of substance was meant to include pollutants and not water.

The trial was originally scheduled to run for three weeks. However, Crown testimony wrapped up in a week and Moring called no witnesses, relying on his cross-examination of Crown witnesses and his closing statement.

Yake reserved his decision to July 25.

mcrawford@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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