Dumping dangerous substances down drains or sewers could cost repeat offenders $7,500 per violation, according to the stiffer fines being considered by Red Deer city council.
A first-offence penalty for illegal discharges into the city’s waste water system would jump tenfold — to $2,500 from a previous $250 — in accordance with changes that gained initial approval from councillors this week.
Coun. Vesna Higham expressed concern about this “dramatic” increase in penalties, wondering if it was warranted.
Council heard the fines for a second offence would increase to $5,000, from the existing $1,000, and third and subsequent offences would be $7,500, compared to the current $2,500.
Offenders could face a six-month prison sentence if fines aren’t paid.
Tim Ainscough, the city’s environmental services manager, explained that high levels of prohibited chemicals in waste water are almost always due to corporate dumping, rather than by an individual.
Raising the penalties is necessary as “a low-level fine can be considered ‘the cost of doing business’ by a corporation,” he added — especially when city penalties are lower than the cost of proper commercial disposal.
City councillors were told the discharge of dangerous chemicals, such as mercury or phosphorus, can cost taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars” when they end up in the treatment system.
Some of these chemicals end up killing “good” bacteria that help in the biological treatment of water, said Ainscough, who noted the city’s legal department suggested raising fines to reflect the severity of the offence and to serve as a deterrent.
While no fines for illegal discharge have had to be issued during his five years with the city, Ainscough knows other municipalities have dealt with this problem. He feels prevention is important as Red Deer is part of a regional water system, and is upstream from many communities.
Red Deer city workers regularly test the effluent released by certain local businesses, such as restaurants and abbatoirs, that are known to have higher bacterial counts in their waste water. These businesses pay a surcharge to compensate the city for the extra cost of their water treatment, said Ainscough.
But if extremely high levels of contaminants are found, he said city workers will work with corporations to resolve the problem. He noted Red Deer businesses have generally played by the rules and been co-operative.
Red Deer city council heard the proposed fines are more in line with those used by other municipalities, including Edmonton, Calgary, Camrose, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
First and second reading of the amendment were unanimously approved by city council on Monday. But the majority of councillors opted to put off third reading for two weeks to give the community time to respond.