Payment includes cash penalties and environmental projects

By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Nearly a year and a half after a wastewater storage pond located in the Yellowstone Club leaked 30 million gallons of treated effluent into Second Yellow Mule Creek, eventually reaching the Gallatin River, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Yellowstone Club have agreed upon terms for an enforcement action.

DEQ developed the penalty in response to the Yellowstone Club’s March 2016 violation of two state laws: discharging sewage, industrial wastes or other wastes into state water without a permit; and contamination of state waters, stemming from exceedances of established water quality standards.

DEQ Environmental Enforcement Specialist Shasta Steinweden said the agency tried to come up with a fair and reasonable penalty in line with its rules and regulations. “The whole situation was somewhat unique,” she said. “There have been some situations that were kind of similar, but nothing in this category.”

According to an Aug. 22 letter DEQ sent to Mike DuCuennois, the Yellowstone Club’s vice president of development, the private club has already written the agency a check for $93,739. This includes $29,564 paid to DEQ for costs incurred investigating the discharge and monitoring its impacts, as well as a $64,175 cash penalty.

In addition, the Yellowstone Club will contribute $288,788 toward a Supplemental Environmental Project of their choosing.

Steinweden described an SEP as “any environmental improvement project … that has a nexus to the incident that happened.” She said it could be tied to the location of the incident or the resource damaged.

According to a 14-page DEQ document guiding the development, review and approval of these projects, “The rationale for an SEP is to encourage violators to take actions that reduce the risk of further pollution, benefit public health, restore and protect the environment, and/or promote environmental compliance.”

The document specifies that SEPs are not allowed for projects the violator has already completed, already intends to do or is likely to do. It also specifies that they will not be approved if the violator, rather than the public, is likely to receive the substantial share of the benefits of the SEP.

Steinweden said she doesn’t know what the Yellowstone Club’s SEP will look like, but said it could fall under a wide array of intiatives.

“It’s really up to them to propose to us what they want to do, and we’re going to look at that based on that SEP policy,” Steinweden said.

A representative from the Yellowstone Club said the individuals who are able to answer questions pertaining to the consent order and the SEP were away the week EBS went to press, and unavailable for comment.

The Yellowstone Club has 90 days from the Aug. 22 issuance of the consent order to propose a Supplemental Environmental Project to the DEQ for approval.

If the DEQ and the Yellowstone Club are unable to reach an agreement on the SEP by Aug. 22, 2018, the Yellowstone Club will pay $192,525 or a pro-rated portion of the total in cash.