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Menard fined for violating water pollution laws

Madison – A judge ordered home retailer Menard Inc. on Monday to pay more than
$2 million in fines and surcharges for illegally discharging pollutants into the
waters of Wisconsin.

Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Lisa Stark imposed
the fine on the nation’s third-largest home improvement retailer for violating
the state’s water pollution laws at its distribution center in Eau Claire
in northwestern Wisconsin.

It is the largest fine ever issued by a Wisconsin
judge for an environmental violation, said Kelly Kennedy, a spokesman for the
Department of Justice, which brought criminal charges against the company last
year. Eau Claire-based Menard pleaded guilty in May to discharging pollutants
into the waters of the state without a permit from 2001 to 2003.

“We
need our corporate entities to ensure they are following our environmental laws,
and if not, enforcement cases like this will hopefully deter others from similar
violations,” Kennedy said.

The state’s complaint claimed that
employees at the distribution center disposed of solvents, cleaners, oils, wash
water and other pollutants down a maintenance shop drain that led to a storm-water
tunnel. The tunnel discharged into a ditch-and-lagoon system that emptied into
the Chippewa River.

The company had asked Stark to limit the penalty to
$1,000 while the state asked for the maximum possible, $2.5 million. Stark settled
on a $1.5 million fine, plus surcharges, for a total penalty of $2.025 million.

Overjealous
enforcement claimed

Dawn Sands, Menard’s general counsel, said the
company has not decided whether to appeal. She said the company has 60 days before
it would have to pay the fine.
Sands called the case the most striking example
of overzealous enforcement of environmental laws by state agencies, which she
said refuse to work with corporations.

The company did not know the malfunctioning
drain existed, sealed the drain when notified of the problem and pleaded guilty
to take responsibility, she said.

“It’s very distressing for any
business in this state to realize that if some mistake is made in a construction
project and you don’t even realize the mistake has been made that you can
actually be penalized to this extent,” she said.

Sands noted the state
had dropped a more serious charge against the company, a felony count of disposing
hazardous wastes without a license, as part of a plea bargain. She maintained
that no environmental harm resulted from the discharges.

Attorney General
Peg Lautenschlager defended seeking a tough penalty, saying the quality of the
state’s clean water and natural resources are at stake.

The infraction
is not Menard’s first dispute with Wisconsin environmental officials. Kennedy
said the second largest fine for an environmental fraction came in 1997, when
Menard was ordered to pay $1.5 million for hazardous waste violations.

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