UBC has been convicted on four counts of violating the Federal Fisheries Act for dumping ammonia down a storm drain that led to Booming Grounds Creek, resulting in the deaths of over 70 fish.
After the refrigeration system for the ice rinks at Thunderbird Arena broke down on September 12, 2014, a solution containing ammonia was dumped down the drain during repairs.
CIMCO Refrigeration, the company that UBC contracted to manage its ice rinks, had already pleaded guilty to all charges. UBC said that it was not responsible for the discharge of the ammonia solution since it had hired CIMCO to perform this work on its behalf.
But in a November 27 decision, Judge Bonnie Craig disputed that the university exercised its due diligence. She noted that Jeff Harley, chief engineer for Thunderbird Arena, was present when a CIMCO employee dumped the ammonia and could have prevented it.
During the protracted trial, Harley testified that he asked the CIMCO employee twice whether the procedure he was following was safe, and was assured that it was.
“I have some concerns with the reliability of this evidence [from Harley],” Judge Craig said in her decision. “... He said he assumed they were following proper procedure. I believe Mr. Harley exaggerated his evidence at trial somewhat, to protect his reputation and the reputation of his employer.”
Judge Craig also found that UBC had no pollution prevention policy in place at the arena at the time of the incident and that it failed to train its employees in the prevention of pollution and proper storm sewer disposal.
In his statements to authorities just after the incident, Harley reportedly did not know that liquid waste could not be dumped in the storm sewer and his manager at the arena, Mike Ikeda, was similarly unaware.
In his statement to investigators, Ikeda said, “Anything on the environment though, I don’t know if there’s something direct that we — we’re told to do. I don’t think there is. There’s probably something we’re supposed to read, maybe. But as far as I know, I don’t know.”
UBC’s “Pollution Prevention Storm Water and Sanitary Sewer” procedure took effect in June 2014, but was not implemented for UBC Athletics until after the September incident. Judge Craig noted the refrigeration system at Thunderbird Arena contained about 2,700 pounds of ammonia around that time.
The procedure now applies to the athletics department.
On the fourth charge, which was for failure to notify the proper authorities, UBC acknowledged that it did not report the discharge of ammonia to the appropriate officials until September 15, three days after the incident — and that was only because Environment Canada had requested a report.
“As an educational institution, I would expect UBC to have a high level of knowledge and skill levels regarding the prevention of pollution,” wrote Judge Craig.
Sentencing is set to take place on April 29 and 30, 2019 for UBC, and on March 9 for CIMCO.