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American Crystal Sugar agrees to pay $50,000 fine

American Crystal Sugar has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine for alleged violations last year of Minnesota pollution regulations at its East Grand Forks beet processing plant.

The fine was for "alleged violations of state environmental protection and reporting regulations, according to a news release Tuesday from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The alleged violations stem from runoff from the plant's site in May 2009 that caused complaints of bad odors and discoloration in the nearby Grand Marais creek.

"This occurred after the company applied industrial by-products to farm fields at excessive levels and too close to waterways during the 2008 cropping season," according to the MPCA news release. "In addition, the company, once notified of the complaint, failed to take necessary actions to minimize pollution to Grand Marais Creek."

An American Crystal spokesman said Tuesday the company has fixed the problem caused by unusual weather.

"This was a situation where there was significant rainfall in the spring of 2009 and the water did run off of our site," said Joe Talley, chief operation officer for American Crystal in Moorhead. "We take responsibility for that and have completed the remediation measures outlined by the MPCA to make sure the likelihood of that this happening ever again is very small."

The remediation included improving the diking around the plant and culverts in the area, Talley said.

"There was diking in place, but because of the volume of rain we received and the runoff that spring, it became obvious we needed more diking than was previously assumed to be needed."

The MPCA says the Grand Marais creek is on the list of the state's impaired waters because of high sediment and pH levels and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

The MPCA also says that American Crystal used testing results from a non-certified laboratory, failed to report all monitoring results and failed to maintain quality assurance procedures adequate to ensure compliance with testing requirements.

American Crystal has paid the penalty fine and completed many of the actions required, MPCA said, and has agreed to show them plans to ensure future compliance.

Talley pointed out that the MPCA is careful to use the word, "allegations," in describing the violations.

"We take our environmental obligations very seriously and want to make sure anything like that doesn't happen in the future," Talley said.