By Eric Freedman
The former technical director of a northern New York paper mill faces sentencing Jan. 26 after pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and falsifying waste discharge reports submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Michael Ward failed to alert his supervisors at the APC Paper Group mill in Norfolk that the mill was exceeding the maximum daily level of discharges allowed under its state permit, according to the plea agreement filed in federal court.
The company’s permit capped the maximum daily amount of pollutants the mill could discharge into the Raquette River, the third-longest in the state. The river is popular among anglers, kayakers and canoeists.
The mill’s bio-chemical oxygen demand count violated its permit limit at least 16 days, the plea agreement said.
Ward “was responsible for monitoring, calculating and reporting compliance with the mill’s discharge permit,” according to the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“Ward hid and falsified data measured in the mill’s wastewater discharges, causing it to regularly violate its permit,” the division said. “Additionally, he repeatedly falsified monthly reports provided to local environmental officials to conceal the ongoing violations.”
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Perry in Syracuse, said the discharged pollutants didn’t cause environmental damage such as a fish kill.
The plea agreement said Ward falsified 29 reports to DEC between January 2013 and September 2015.
Perry said, “We believe he operated completely on his own, and mill higher-ups were “not culpable” because they didn’t know that reports that Ward prepared were fraudulent.
The violations came to light after the mill fired Ward in fall 2015 for unrelated reasons. When the company discovered the problem, it contacted law enforcement officials, Perry said.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the DEC conducted the criminal investigation.
Perry said there’s no agreement on the length of Ward’s sentence. The crimes carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison and an $800,000 fine.
Ward’s lawyer, assistant federal public defender Randi Bianco, said she can’t comment on the case.