A major Australian petrol company has been fined for unlawfully disposing of contaminated soil and causing environmental harm.
United Petroleum was fined $75,000 and ordered to pay $41,463 in legal and investigation costs in the Maroochydore Magistrates Court.
The penalty was welcomed by the Department of Environment and Science, which issued a press release stating that the company faced two charges of unlawfully disposing of contaminated soil and one charge of unlawfully causing material environmental harm, in contravention of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.
The company pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2015 but was found guilty in August 2021.
In sentencing, the court considered the importance of deterrence for other large companies who may be tempted to risk offending as ‘the cost of doing business’ and that the defendant company had shown no remorse for its conduct.
The conduct related to contaminated soil that was removed from a petrol station development at Doonan and dumped near the Noosa River between July and August 2013.
The company deposited 109 truckloads of soil, including 45 at a residential property close to wetlands and high ecological value waterways within 150m of the Noosa River, which had the potential for material environmental harm to be caused.
The incident was brought to the department’s attention after concerned residents informed the Noosa Council. The service station is listed on the Environmental Management Register.
The company removed the contaminated soil and conducted a clean-up operation before the river could sustain any environmental damage.
DES encouraged those who committed environmental offences to work constructively with the department to address any offending conduct and to bring about the swift resolution of prosecution matters.
The significant delay in reaching a conclusion in the matter was a consequence of a series of appeals and applications brought by the company over a number of years.
DES’ press release said it took compliance matters seriously as environmental regulator, and that it was the responsibility of businesses to comply with strong environmental standards and obligations. Failure to meet these standards can result in fines and prosecutions.
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