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Westward Plant Workers Face Air Pollution Charges

By | August 8, 2014 - 4:42 pm

The Westward Seafoods plant is tucked away on Captains Bay Road. But the factory — and two of its former employees — are drawing heat from federal regulators for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act.

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Westward makes its own electricity on-site using three generators. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis says the company has air permits that lay out what pollutants it can emit — and under what conditions.

“It was required to have pollution prevention equipment to reduce the nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse,” Feldis says.

Nitrogen dioxide is a rusty-looking gas that can cause respiratory problems in humans. It also contributes to the formation of smog.

Feldis says the system designed to cut down on nitrogen dioxide emissions at the Westward plant was rarely used during a two-year period — from 2009 to 2011. The plant kept sending required reports to state and federal agencies during that time, but Feldis says the data was inaccurate.

Now, the former powerhouse supervisor is being charged with falsifying those emissions reports. Raul Morales faces up to two years in jail, on top of fines.

The former powerhouse operator is also facing federal charges. Bryan Beigh was on the job in July 2011, when he allegedly tampered with the meters on a water injection system. That’s a key component of the pollution control equipment.

“It’s alleged that he in fact used a magnet and a drill to physically change the readings on these flow meters,” Feldis says.

Feldis says the two former employees are planning to plead guilty in federal court. But the investigation isn’t complete.

According to Westward Seafoods vice president Mark Johahnson, at least one other worker was involved in the alleged violations.

“This was the actions of three individuals,” Johahnson says. “I don’t think it should color the other thousand or so that work up there for us. We have company values and policies to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t detect it before we did.”

Johahnson says the company fired the employees who were allegedly responsible. And they also reported the violations to regulators as soon as they came to light in September 2011.

But that wasn’t the first time that the Westward plant landed in hot water over pollution.

About a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency accused Westward of burning fuel with excess sulfur. Westward didn’t cooperate with investigators in that instance — allegedly violating disclosure laws in the process. The company eventually paid $570,000 to settle the case.

Johahnson says Westward is trying to make improvements.

“We have redoubled our compliance efforts to ensure that it won’t happen again,” Johahnson says. “But outside of that, I can’t really say anything due to the ongoing investigation.”

Meanwhile, Westward’s sister company may be getting out of the power generation business in Unalaska.

Alyeska Seafoods — which is also owned by Maruha Nichiro of Japan — recently agreed to tie in to the municipal electric grid in Unalaska. The factory could be buying its power from the city of Unalaska by next summer.

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