TOLEDO, Oregon (From news reports) -- The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality levied fines this month totaling $27,106 against the Georgia-Pacific Pulp and Paper Mill in Toledo regarding three separate incidents -- two involving unexpected releases from the mill's wastewater treatment system and one involving a lab testing issue.
Despite the fact that all three incidents occurred more than a year ago, DEQ just assessed the fines in December.
"We reported them immediately to DEQ, and then DEQ had to do their due diligence," said C. J. Drake, public affairs manager for GP's Toledo mill. He said any unpermitted release from the mill is a serious matter, but these incidents were entirely unintentional.
"We voluntarily reported the conditions to DEQ and also took corrective actions as soon as possible," said Drake. "We work hard to be a good steward of the environment and a good neighbor in our community, and we deeply regret any deviation from those commitments."
The first discharge occurred on Sept. 14, 2018, when approximately 1,260 gallons of treated wastewater entered the Yaquina River through an on-site storm drain. The cause of the discharge was a vacuum breaker failure on the mill's wastewater effluent line near Gate 3 off Butler Bridge Road.
The second discharge occurred on Oct. 15, 2018, when an unknown amount of treated wastewater entered Little Beaver Creek from a leak along the underground effluent line that parallels Highway 20.
In both the September and October discharges, the wastewater had been treated and was in GP's wastewater effluent line that discharges into the ocean.
"Our engineers detected it," Drake said of the two discharges. "They were on it as soon as possible. They were leaks from our effluent line, and they were caused by wear and tear on equipment that has since been replaced."
The third incident involving a lab testing issue occurred in September 2018.
"The mill experienced an upset condition that led to an offsite release of foam from the treatment ponds," said Drake. "This condition caused a higher-than-normal biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in the treated effluent. While the mill conducted required BOD testing more frequently after the upset condition, the results were invalid because they did not meet DEQ quality assurance standards for this specific event," he said.
GP has since corrected this situation by changing its BOD testing procedures. However, as part of the assessed penalties, DEQ has ordered GP to conduct a third-party audit of its BOD testing procedures.
It's possible that Lincoln County could see an environmental benefit as a result of the penalties assessed by DEQ against GP. Under DEQ rules, the mill has the option of offsetting a portion of the monetary penalty by agreeing to pay for a supplemental environmental project (SEP).
"We're still researching our options there. We are actively exploring the option of implementing a SEP that will meaningfully improve the local environment," said Drake. "Our environmental team at the mill is reviewing options under that program, what we can possibly to do participate. We either write a check to DEQ for the penalty amount or, for the same amount of money, we can participate in this program."
If GP does decide to participate in the SEP program, at least 80 percent of the penalty amount has to go toward the program selected, with the 20 percent balance going to DEQ, Drake said.