VERNON - Four years after tainted water poured out the taps of 3,500 Lavington homes, the Regional District of North Okanagan has been sentenced for letting it happen.
Provincial Court Judge Mayland McKimm approved a joint submission from Crown and defence lawyers Thursday morning, ordering the district to pay $18,540 for its four water contamination charges including $14,400 to a habitat conservation trust fund.
“It (money) is staying hopefully local and we think this is an important feature of this sentencing,” the district’s chief administrative officer, Trafford Hall said after the sentence hearing.
The fine, and the roughly $70,000 the district racked up in legal fees, will be paid for by North Okanagan utility rate payers.
But there are no regrets held by the district regarding the decision to plead not guilty and fight the charges. The District of Coldstream, and the farmer on whose land manure seeped from, pleaded guilty from the outset.
“You cannot plead guilty to anything that you do not honestly believe you are guilty from,” Hall said. “We honestly believed we were not guilty.”
He said the district accepts the court’s decision and will learn from it.
“The investment in risk removal now will take greater emphasis because of this decision,” he said.
A $100 million Master Water Plan anticipated to make the system far safer is moving full ahead with recent approval from the Interior Health Association, Hall said.
“It will be expensive, but we are not sure that there’s any other way to move diligently forward so that... these types of events don’t happen again.”
Meanwhile, the Antwerp Springs well has been permanently decommissioned.
Crown counsel Joel Gold said the district’s “good faith,” dedicated response in the aftermath of the contamination, and lack of any “gross negligence” on the part of staff were factors in agreeing to the joint submission of $18,540, not higher.
Defence counsel Rob Bruneau noted the district has been cooperative with the Crown and investigators and is “moving full speed ahead” with the implementation of the Master Water Plan.
McKimm said the submission perfectly represented the need for balancing a public statement about the seriousness of clean drinking water with the fiscal restraint necessary when dealing with taxpayer dollars.
McKimm said his earlier concern about a comment made by a district official the day after receiving a guilty verdict was “simply something that was misquoted or misheard.”
The district has three months to pay the fine.
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