GLDD to pay $1 million fine in 2016 pollution case

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Great Lakes Dredge & Dock (GLDD) agreed to pay a $1 million dollar fine in relation to a 2016 oil spill near a Louisiana barrier island. If the company’s plea deal is accepted, it will also deposit $2 million with the court in an advance of a future hearing to determine the final amount of restitution to any victims.

According to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Duane Evans, GLDD pleaded guilty on June 15, 2021, to violating the Clean Water Act in connection with the spill.

According to court documents, the company admitted to negligently causing the discharge of a harmful quantity of oil into a navigable water of the United States, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The spill took place on September 5, 2016, on the edge of Bay Long near the Chenier Ronquille barrier island, which is east of Grand Isle.

In the plea documents, GLDD admitted that, in a contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was responsible for locating all pipelines in the area of the project and complying with the federal Pipeline Safety Act and the “One Call” system created by the Louisiana Underground Utilities and Facilities Damage Prevention Law. GLDD admitted that it violated those two laws by failing to alert pipeline companies about continuing work near their pipelines for several months leading up to the oil spill.

James Tassin, the subcontractor working for GLDD who operated a marsh buggy that physically caused the spill, was charged in a separate criminal case. He pleaded guilty as charged on March 18, 2021, and is awaiting sentencing.

The U.S. Attorney’s office says that “according to court documents in Tassin’s case, after GLDD stopped complying with One Call requirements, a GLDD employee instructed Tassin to use his marsh buggy to dig near pipelines, despite that digging not being in NOAA’s approved plans, and without GLDD getting approval from any pipeline companies that it was safe to dig. While Tassin was in the area of that work on September 5, 2016, he struck one of the pipelines with his marsh buggy and caused the oil spill. Tassin admitted that a GLDD employee instructed Tassin not to tell anyone that Tassin had been digging near the site of the spill, so Tassin followed that instruction.”

In its plea documents, GLDD admitted that it supervised Tassin’s work and that GLDD’s negligent supervision of Tassin caused the oil spill.

“Safeguarding the environment is one of the highest priorities for the Department of Justice,” said Evans. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to continue working with its federal partners to investigate and hold entities accountable when they neglect their professional and legal obligations and threaten the environment, which places the public and our ecosystem in Southeastern Louisiana at risk.”

U.S. District Court Judge Greg Guidry will set a sentencing hearing at a later date.

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General.

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