METRO VANCOUVER -- An Aquilini company was ordered Thursday to pay $55,000 after pleading guilty to a provincial Water Act charge of unlawful diversion of water from the North Alouette River for a cranberry operation in 2009.
Port Coquitlam provincial court judge Deirdre Pothecary said she considered imposing an even greater penalty due a history of violations involving companies under the Aquilinis' Golden Eagle Group -- of which Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini is a member.
"The group is not a stranger to regulatory offences," she said, noting the company has been "casual from time to time" about obeying laws related to some 2,000 hectares of farmland in the Pitt Meadows area.
But Pothecary noted that since the 2009 offence the company has given one of its senior staff, John Negrin, responsibility for overseeing regulatory affairs in hopes of avoiding further problems.
She accepted a joint agreement of the Crown and defence counsel that the numbered company, 374917 BC Ltd., should pay a $1,000 fine plus $54,000 to the province's Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation.
Crown Jim MacAuley told the court that the company had authorization from Pitt Meadows to run a pipe across the city's dike but did not have a permit from the B.C. Environment Ministry or federal fisheries department to divert up to 1.5 million gallons of water. The offence occurred between May 17 and June 20, 2009.
A private citizen reported a large fish kill downstream of where the water was illegally taken but federal officials could not find the fish and, regardless, determined that the water withdrawal could not have caused such an event, MacAuley said.
After the offence and while the charges were pending, the company did receive official approval for a similar water diversion, he added.
The Crown entered a stay on charges against seven other related companies as well as Elisa, Paulo, Roberto and Francesco Aquilini. A stay was also entered against Richard Matis, who was farm manager at the time of the incident but who is no longer employed by the Aquilinis.
Alan Blair, lawyer for the Aquilinis, noted that 2009 was a dry season and that government authorities were taking an inordinate amount of time to process the water application, all of which put the cranberry crop at risk. He said no environmental harm resulted from the offence.
None of the Aquilinis appeared in person, including Roberto Aquilini, the director of record on the numbered company that was fined.
In 2007, another Aquilini numbered company was ordered to pay $50,000 for violating the provincial Heritage Conservation Act for excavating an aboriginal site that predated European contact.
In 2003, Golden Eagle Ranch was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $19,000 to the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund (as it was then called) for another Water Act offence related, in part, to installation of a culvert and rebuilding the top of a dike without permission.
MacAuley said another Aquilini-related company was fined $20,000 in 1998 for unlawful discharges from dairy operations in the Pitt Poulder area.
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