SPOKANE — A Walla Walla chrome plating company and one of its employees have pleaded guilty to breaking federal laws for hazardous waste.
Both the company, Smith Chrome Plating Inc., and its general manager, James Christian, were sentenced Tuesday after entering guilty pleas before U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle in Spokane.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act by failing to monitor, sample, record and report discharges of wastewater into the city of Walla Walla’s sewer system.
Christian pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of negligently discharging wastewater into the city sewer system and one felony count of making false reports to the state Department of Ecology about the discharges.
After accepting the pleas, Van Sickle sentenced the company to pay a $15,000 fine, payable in installments, and placed it on five years probation. Christian was sentenced to five years probation with four months of home confinement, ordered to serve 200 hours of community service related to water quality programs or watershed restoration and pay a $125 fine.
Earlier this year the company signed two legal “agreed orders” with Ecology concerning the case. Under the terms of the agreements, the company was fined a total of $74,000, but will not pay the full amount if specific terms are met.
The company, at 1012 N. Ninth Ave., is a small shop that chrome plates concaves, which are pieces of equipment on combines used for harvesting grain. The company has been in operation for more than 60 years and serves farmers throughout eastern Washington, Idaho and eastern Oregon.
According to court documents, Christian started discharging wastewater into the sewer system when a system the company had installed to treat the water failed to work as expected.
“Faced with mounting accumulated wastewater, Mr. Christian was at a loss for solutions and felt he was failing the company,” Christian’s attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum. Not seeing any other alternatives, Christian commenced discharging the waste water without notifying the company’s owner, Ecology or the city. He also began falsifying reports filed with Ecology stating that the company was not discharging wastewater.
The violations surfaced during compliance inspections by Ecology in 2010 and 2011 when inspectors found unlabeled containers of dangerous waste and discovered releases of wastewater had occurred.