Businessman, company fined $95K for flooding neighbours farmland

Fines totalling $95,000 have been levied against a Red Deer business operator and his company for an unauthorized water diversion that flooded neighbouring farmland.

Fines totalling $95,000 have been levied against a Red Deer business operator and his company for an unauthorized water diversion that flooded neighbouring farmland.

Auto Body Services Red Deer Ltd. and its primary shareholder, Harry Harm Veenstra, 74, were convicted on July 25 of charges arising from an incident in the summer of 2010, when neighbouring farmland was heavily damaged by flood water pumped from an industrial site.

Judge Gordon Yake pronounced sentence in Red Deer provincial court on Monday.

The water was pumped off a section of the Auto Body Services property, located north of Red Deer and near the Blindman River, said Yake.

An oilfield company leased a portion of that property from Auto Body Services and was doing site preparation under Veenstra’s direction, including pumping water into a ditch when rainwater flooded the site, he said.

Veenstra began diverting water off the site without an approved stormwater management plan, despite knowing from past experience that such a plan would be required, said Yake.

The result was that water from Auto Body Services began to pool on privately-owned property next door, eventually causing a landslide that destroyed trees and vegetation on an escarpment separating two fields.

The escarpment remains unstable and the property owner is still unable to farm the lower area of his field, said Yake. It was not until this year that he was able to plant a crop in the upper area, said Yake.

He described Veenstra as a “relatively sophisticated” man, familiar with Alberta Environment’s requirements because of his previous dealings with them.

Yake ordered Veenstra to pay fines totalling $15,000 for infractions under the Alberta Water Act and the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA). His company was fined $80,000 for the same infractions.

Crown prosecutor Peter Roginksi of Calgary had asked for fines of $200,000 against the company and $20,000 against Veenstra, while defence counsel Sean Parker of Edmonton had suggested penalties of $10,000 against the man and $30,000 against the business. Additionally, Parker suggested a creative sentence, in which a portion of those monies would be directed to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Yake commented that corporations face a maximum penalty of $1 million under the Water Act, while the maximum available to individuals is $100,000 in fines and up to two years in prison. The EPEA carries maximum penalties of $500,000 for corporations and $50,000 for individuals.

Veenstra was given until April 30 to pay the fines against him or face up to three months in prison. Auto Body Services was given until Dec. 30, 2015 to pay its fines.

Yake declined to include a creative provision in sentencing, following up on Roginski’s comment during sentencing submissions that the Crown has had difficulty collecting payments from similar sentences in previous cases.

Creative sentences available for offences under the Water Act and EPEA can involve dedicating a portion of the fine to approved groups or projects, such as flood mitigation or wetlands enhancement.

Yake said he found no evidence connecting the Foodgrains Bank with the offences, nor had he been given any information about its charitable activities.

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