Seafood processing company fined in Kodiak ammonia dumping case

Devin Kelly

A Seattle-based seafood processing corporation and one of its employees were ordered to pay fines this week after pleading guilty to federal and state charges of illegally dumping ammonia into the city sewer in Kodiak.

On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered North Pacific Seafoods, which has five shore-based plants in Alaska, to pay a $205,000 criminal penalty in connection with a November 2011 ammonia discharge from Alaska Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak, according to a statement from the office of U.S. District Attorney Karen Loeffler.

The company was also ordered to serve three years' probation, which will include a Environmental Compliance Plan requiring training for employees at all its Alaska facilities on proper waste handling, specifically for ammonia.

In state court Friday morning in Kodiak, William J. Long, the chief engineer at Alaska Pacific Seafoods at the time of the ammonia discharge, pled guilty to violating a permit regulated by the Alaska Department of Conservation. He was sentenced to serve three years' probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine and take a safety course or an anhydrous ammonia handling course.

"(This result) is significant because, with all the fish processing that goes on in Alaska, ammonia is in widespread use for refrigeration systems," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward said Friday.

The case, a joint state and federal investigation, dates back to Nov. 29, 2011, when employees at the sewage plant in Kodiak first smelled the odor of ammonia, according to a plea agreement in the case. The city's fire department called seafood processing facilities in Kodiak to ask if any were discharging ammonia, and when contacted, Long denied that any such discharges had taken place, the agreement said.

Sewer employees then put on protective gear and traced the source of the ammonia to Alaska Pacific Seafoods facility, the agreement said. At that point, Long admitted to the discharge, documents show.

State and federal investigators determined that 40 pounds of ammonia were dumped into the sewer. The ammonia wiped out the bacteria used to treat sewage at the city facility, causing the Kodiak city sewer system to discharge sewage that wasn't fully treated in violation of its Clean Water Act permit, authorities said.

Of the company's $205,000 penalty, $55,000 will be paid to the City of Kodiak for hazardous waste response training and equipment for the sewer and fire departments, the statement from Loeffler's office said.

In a Tuesday statement, North Pacific Seafoods maintained the ammonia discharge was accidental, attributing it to water and ammonia overflowing from a holding tank into a drain. The company said Alaska Pacific Seafoods has since installed a new drainage system to prevent similar incidents in the future.

In the plea agreement, federal and state investigators cite examples of the Alaska Pacific Seafoods facility discharging ammonia from its refrigeration system into St. Paul Harbor before and after the sewer incident, in violation of its Clean Water Act permit.

North Pacific Seafoods disputed that those discharges were illegal, claiming that its permit was broad enough to allow it, Steward said. But through the litigation, the company agreed that ammonia discharges would not be allowed in the future, according to the plea agreement.

In 2011, another Seattle-based seafood processing company, Unisea, agreed to pay $1.9 million in penalties in a settlement with state and federal authorities over the discharge of ammonia and other waste from its facility on Amaknak Island in Unalaska.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


By DEVIN KELLY
dkelly@adn.com