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Business owner found guilty in water diversion case

A Red Deer businessman was found guilty on four environmental counts for diverting water onto neighbouring hay fields causing a landslide in 2010.

Harry Veenstra was convicted of one count under the Alberta Environment Protection and Enhancement Act and three counts under the Water Act.

Red Deer provincial court Judge Gordon Yake said on Friday that it was clear that Veenstra was aware that a company leasing land from him in an industrial area just north of the city planned to pump water off the site. It was also proven that Veenstra knew a water diversion licence was required but did not tell the company that was about to do the pumping, nor did he make any effort to get a licence, although he had done so in the past.

Yake said it was not “reasonably conceivable” that Veenstra didn’t know he needed Alberta Environment approval to divert water.

His “mendacity” was “motivated by a desire to evade responsibility,” the judge said.

Veenstra was co-accused with his company, Auto Body Services Ltd.

Yake found Veenstra not guilty on three charges under the Water Act because he did not personally undertake the pumping.

Evidence presented during the trial showed that the land he was leasing to other companies was prone to flooding and retention ponds were dug to hold runoff. However, in July 2010 they filled up and pumps were run for a week to empty the ponds into a nearby drainage ditch.

That overflowed onto a neighbouring farmer’s hay field, leaving a 25- to 30-acre portion under water. The land was so sodden that the farmer has only been able to resume farming on it again this year because tractors got bogged down.

Accumulated water also led to an escarpment collapsing, covering up a lower section of farmland.

Yake rejected defence arguments that Veenstra was not involved in the pumping that was being done by other companies.

He also didn’t accept that the flooding and landslide could have been caused by recent heavy rains. The landowner had testified that the property had never previously flooded the way it did when the water pumping began.

A three-week trial had been scheduled but it wrapped up after a week earlier this month with 12 witnesses called.

A sentencing date has yet to be set.

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