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Seafood processor agrees to $570,000 EPA civil penalty

A Seattle-based seafood company has agreed to pay a civil penalty of more than a half-million dollars to settle allegations of air pollution and community right-to-know violations at an Alaska processing plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Westward Seafoods Inc. will pay $570,000 to resolve problems the agency said it found at the Dutch Harbor plant from 2002 to 2006. The case and consent decree were filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

It's an unusually large fine and the case itself is unusual because the company failed to respond to environmental regulators' requests for information between 2004 and 2006, according to EPA air compliance inspector John Pavitt.

The company's failure to respond to state regulators led to the EPA's decision to take over the case, he said. The case was prosecuted by Katherine Loyd, a trial attorney in the Denver office of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

One potential contributing factor for the communication lapse is that Westward did not have a key job position filled to ensure the seafood plant was complying with environmental laws. "They didn't have an environmental manager for the better part of two years," Pavitt said.

Phone calls to Westward and its attorney were not returned Monday afternoon and evening.

The EPA claimed Westward Seafoods burned 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel with excessive sulfur dioxide, operated three diesel generators with inoperable air pollution controls and failed repeatedly to respond to requests for information from state air inspectors between 2004 and 2006.

The agency also charged that the company failed annually to report a community chemical hazard: 80,000 pounds of ammonia in use and storage.

Westward's penalty will be paid to the U.S. Treasury, according to Pavitt.

He said Westward has fixed its air-pollution problems. But in addition to paying the civil penalty, the company has agreed to submit new plans to EPA for its approval that describe how it will handle environmental problems and properly maintain its equipment at the plant.

Westward is owned by the large Japanese seafood company, Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc. In addition to the Dutch Harbor plant, Westward also operates a seafood plant in Kodiak. The Dutch Harbor plant processes several species, including pollock, crab, cod, sablefish and salmon.

Staff and wire reports