Fruit-packing company should have been fined more for effluent discharge: neighbour

File photo of Sandher Fruit Packers near Kelowna, B.C. Global News

A fine dished out to a fruit packing company in the Central Okanagan should have been much higher.

That’s the opinion of Kelowna, B.C., resident Alexandra Wright, who says the $78,368 fine to nearby neighbour Sander Fruit Packers for illegally discharging effluent (wastewater) into a ditch was “a slap on the wrist.”

The fine was issued last week, with public documents being published this week.

Click to play video: 'Ellison residents upset over sewage smell'
Ellison residents upset over sewage smell

In issuing the fine, the Ministry of Environment called it a “major” contravention, noting that Sandher Fruit Packers had been warned and fined previously for past contraventions, starting in 2017.

Story continues below advertisement

Along with this month’s five-figure penalty, the company was also fined $32,000 in 2022 for violating wastewater discharge regulations.

In the 11-page decision, enforcement director Stephanie Little said, “I find that discharging to the environment without authorization undermines the basic integrity of the overarching regulator regime and interferes with the Ministry’s ability to protect the environment.

“Without authorization, discharge limits, monitoring programs, system maintenance and reporting requirements are not able to be defined nor compliance assess with.”

The report also noted that Sandher requested the ministry not impose a fine, as they are “actively working towards compliance” and proposed “the setting of benchmarks that would hold Sandher Fruit Packers to the process of achieving full compliance through the application we have submitted.”

Click to play video: 'Ellison resident launches petition against fruit packing plant'
Ellison resident launches petition against fruit packing plant

However, the ministry disagreed with that proposal, stating the fine “must act as a specific deterrent to the contravention that has already occurred.”

Story continues below advertisement

Last week, the ministry also told Global News that “compliance and enforcement staff continue to monitor Sandher closely.”

In late March, Wright held a community meeting on her property, located on Old Vernon Road near Sandher Fruit Packers.

Around 100 people attended the meeting following weeks of noticeable stink emanating from the fruit packing plant.

“To confirm, a ‘major’ violation of the (Environmental Management Act) by a multi-million dollar corporation warrants just over $100,000 worth of fines in the past seven years of violations?” Wright said in an email on Wednesday.

She continued, saying, “As we are all aware, the effluent being discharged passes through Mill Creek and Simpsons Pond, prior to making its way to Okanagan Lake.”

“I, for one, would not want to be eating fish that have been contaminated with known aquatic poisons — and I wouldn’t be very happy that multiple governmental agencies had been aware of this for seven years, and didn’t think it important to warn me, or to prevent the contamination from occurring.”

Global News has reached out to Sandher Fruit Packers several times and has yet to receive a reply. Another request was sent out on Wednesday afternoon.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan cherry growers predicting drastic reduction in 2024 crop'
Okanagan cherry growers predicting drastic reduction in 2024 crop

The company has published two “community updates” on its website, with the last being on April 17.

Story continues below advertisement

“While we acknowledge that we haven’t always gotten it right, we want to assure our customers and our neighbours that we are working diligently on a permanent solution,” said company president Gurtaj Sandher.

The company has also applied for an application for effluent discharge. However, a petition against that has gathered more than 1,600 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

On April 3, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick presented the petition in the provincial legislature.

“I’d like to introduce a petition by the Ellison community, signed by over 1,400 people, who urge the Ministry of Environment to reject Sandher Fruit Packers application 111625, dated on or about February 21, 2024, which seeks to continue discharging effluent from its facility into the onsite storm system.”

More information about petitions at the provincial level is available online.

More information about the fine is available online.

Sponsored content