Montana DEQ fines Yellowstone Club for wastewater spill into Gallatin River

Montana DEQ fines Yellowstone Club for wastewater spill into Gallatin River

News Type: State Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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The company behind a private resort community in Big Sky has paid the state of Montana more than $90,000 in penalties and will need to complete environmental projects to atone for the spilling of nearly 30 million gallons of treated wastewater into the Gallatin River in March 2016.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued an administrative order Tuesday that requires the Yellowstone Club to pay $93,739 in penalties and reimbursement to the state and spend hundreds of thousands more on environmental projects over the failure of a wastewater pond that spilled into the river.

The total fine calculated for the spill was $256,700. DEQ and the Yellowstone Club struck an agreement in which the club would pay in cash 25 percent of that fine — $64,175 — and $29,564 to reimburse the state for the time it spent responding to the spill. DEQ officials said the club paid those two portions with a $93,739 check.

The order said that to make up for the rest of the fine — $192,525 — the club agreed to complete projects that help improve or safeguard water quality in the area worth one-and-a-half times the remaining value. That comes to $288,788.

The club has to provide a proposal for the supplemental environmental projects to DEQ within the next 90 days. It’s possible their proposal could cost less than the amount included in the order but still be deemed beneficial enough to take care of the penalties.

“They have paid their penalty,” said Kristi Ponozzo, the director of public policy for DEQ. “The big remainder is the supplemental environmental projects.”

The Yellowstone Club issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the order issued by DEQ “establishes closure for both parties on the unfortunate event.”

“The club takes our neighborhood relationships seriously, and we strive to continue to foster the environmental and economic health of the region,” the statement said.

In early March 2016, an ice formation moved a pipe in one of the Yellowstone Club’s wastewater ponds, creating a path for the water inside to leak. It sent millions of gallons of water down a hillside and into Second Yellow Mule Creek, a tributary of the West Fork of the Gallatin River. The water carried dirt and plant material into those streams and later into the Gallatin River.

The pond held 35 million gallons of wastewater. Crews were able to move about 6 million gallons to another pond, but the rest leaked out, completely draining the pond in a matter of days.

 The spill didn’t pose a risk to human health, and state-conducted fish surveys showed the spill didn’t have a major impact on trout populations there. But the spill violated state water quality standards, which is why the DEQ issued a penalty.

DEQ’s order cites the Yellowstone Club for discharging water without a permit and causing pollution of a waterway. The head of the Yellowstone Club signed the order, which amounts to an agreement between the company and the agency. In addition to the fine, the company agreed to complete surface water monitoring and keep an eye on the slope that the spill washed out.

The supplemental environmental projects the company will do will be lined out later this year. The company plans to propose a project that will cost the amount of the remainder of their fine — $192,525 — in hopes that DEQ will waive its standard that the projects be valued at one-and-a-half times the remaining value of the fine.

DEQ’s guidelines for supplemental environmental projects say a project can qualify as an exact offset of the penalty if the proposal is “an exceptional project.”

Ponozzo said the agency will evaluate that possibility when an application comes in. If DEQ deems the project is exceptional, it would have to amend the order they issued on Tuesday to change the dollar amount the project is required to offset.