Rio Tinto Alcan fined $200,000 for salmon destruction

The sentence was handed down today in Terrace provincial court

Rio Tinto Alcan project in Kitimat

Rio Tinto Alcan has been fined $200,000 for the destruction of salmon in Kitimat’s Kemano River.

The sentence, handed down by Judge Calvin Struyk in Terrace provincial court earlier today, dates back to an April 14, 2011 incident in which the company reduced the amount of power being produced at its Kemano generators.

It did so by reducing the amount of water being run through its generators which provide the electricity for the company’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.

But reducing water flow through the generators then meant less water was released into the Kemano River and that altered a fish habitat, resulting in the death of salmon.

Struyk found Rio Tinto Alcan guilty more than a year ago and today’s court session was scheduled so he could release his sentence.

Earlier Rio Tinto Alcan statements indicated the company reduced its power production at the request of BC Hydro so it could perform an emergency repair on one of its transmission lines.

Power produced by Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kemano generators also flows through BC Hydro’s own transmission lines so that when a “hot spot” or bad connection was found, having the former reduce electrical production would make those repairs possible.

If the connection had melted, it could have potentially caused “catastrophic damage to the transmission line and surrounding area and result in a longer outage to repair,” BC Hydro said in a statement.

It added that a repair was required as soon as possible.

During court submissions earlier this year, federal Crown prosecutor Michelle Ball argued the company should be fined $250,000 and should have to install a Water Survey Canada gauge at a cost of $20,000 to ensure fish living in the habitat in the future have the appropriate water level and flow.

During Struyk’s sentencing today he said there was “no evidence of significant harm or long lasting damage” to the environment. But he did agree there was some damage done to the river and the salmon population and this is something for which the company should be held accountable.

He said that in making the decision the company made, it failed to properly protect the salmon population in the area, though he also acknowledged that if it failed to act on BC Hydro’s request the damage to the transmission line and the surrounding area could have been “much worse.”

Struyk declined crown’s request that Rio Tinto Alcan install a water gauge and survey.

Under the Fisheries Act, part of the company’s $200,000 fine will go towards promoting the proper management, conservation and protection of fish habitats in the northwest.

Rio Tinto Alcan had originally also been charged with harmful alteration of a fish habitat but that charged was stayed.