NEW ORLEANS – NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A dredging company in Houston has been sentenced to pay a $ 1 million fine for an oil spill that occurred when a subcontractor cut through an oil pipeline during restoration work on the barrier islands off Louisiana in 2016.
The Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, which describes itself as the nation’s largest dredging company, was convicted last Thursday of violating the Clean Water Act, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans.
The Great Lakes “ruthlessly violated rules designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide their actions,” Kimberly Bahney, a specialty agent in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Louisiana, said Friday in this press release.
The spill occurred when a marsh buggy hit a pipeline while digging and moving sediment to create part of the island’s new outline, releasing an estimated 5,300 gallons (20,000 gallons) of crude oil and oiling about 200 birds.
The restoration at Chenier Ronquille, a barrier island east of the Grand Isle, was paid for with money from the BP oil spill in 2010.
The Great Lakes, which was headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, in 2016, but has since moved to Houston, pleaded guilty in June 2021. As part of the plea, it said it violated state and federal laws by failing to disclose companies to continue working near their pipelines. A statement filed with the guilty plea also said the Great Lakes’ failure to monitor James Tassin, whose marsh buggy punctured the pipeline on September 5, 2016, was a cause of the spill.
Tassin, a Shallow Water Equipment LLC employee, pleaded guilty in March 2021 to violating the Clean Water Act. His verdict is set for August 16, according to online court documents.
An employee at Great Lakes told him to dig near pipelines even though that area was not in the plan approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the press release.
It said Great Lakes had not received the pipeline companies’ words that it was safe to dig, and Tassin said a Great Lakes employee told him “not to tell anyone that Tassin had dug near the site of the spill. . ” The two Houston companies that owned the pipeline, Harvest Pipeline Company and Arrowhead Gulf Coast Pipeline, LLC, sued for damages, including cleaning costs. Prosecutors said Great Lakes agreed to pay nearly $ 3.2 million, and Tassin’s employer agreed to pay it nearly $ 1.7 million.
U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry last week rejected prosecutors’ request to have the Great Lakes pay a total of at least $ 6 million in compensation for the spill, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.
The investigation would be too unmanageable, “while unnecessarily stopping an end to the Chenier Ronquille incident,” he wrote. Moreover, he said, the figure would probably not be far from the figure decided for the claim.
Money to pay the fine is already in a court account. The Great Lakes deposited $ 2 million in possible repayment when it pleaded guilty and will get the rest back, according to court documents.