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Balfour Beatty fined for multiple silt pollution incidents

A global civil engineering company was fined £28,000 today Friday 31 October 2008, for polluting controlled waters with silt during the construction of the A3 tunnel at Hindhead.

Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Limited, of Station Road, Redhill, Surrey, pleaded guilty at Guildford Magistrate's Court to two offences under Section 85 (1) of the Water Resources Act, (1991) of causing silt pollution to enter the Milhanger and Hammer Ponds near Godalming between the 3 and 6 of June 2007 and polluting the Nutcombe Valley Stream Ponds between the 22 November 2007 and 15 January 2008.

Balfour Beatty were also ordered to pay £9,477 costs, a total of £37,477

The court heard that as part of construction works for a new A3 Hindhead Tunnel the Environment Agency gave Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering agreement to dewater into an existing highways drain that feeds into the Milhanger Lake, provided that the water would be uncontaminated and silt free. The conditions set were that the water would first be pumped into settlement tanks to ensure the water was clear before being discharged.

On the 5 June 2007 Environment Agency officers received reports of silt pollution at Milhanger Lake, Environment Officers attended the site and found the lake to be bright orange in colour. They also checked the drainage inlet from the A3 Hindhead works and again found the water bright orange. Water sampling was carried out confirming that the lake was heavily laden with silt. Hammer Pond, downstream of Milhanger was also checked and found to be discoloured. The officers attended the A3 tunnel construction site and were met by an on-site engineer, who was aware that no settlement was taking place, but had continued to discharge the water as the job needed to be done.

All sample analysis taken confirmed that silt pollution had occurred and the environment officers issued the company with two formal samples, sample receipts and a site agent was cautioned. the following day the ponds were still discoloured. A biological survey was carried out and the results concluded that there was no impact on the aquatic or plant life of Milhanger Lake. However, there was a significant visual impact on the ponds.

During an interview under caution on 1 August 2007 Mr Paul Hoyland, a representative for the company, explained why the pumping had gone wrong and the actions they had been taken since. Mr Hoyland also expressed that the company greatly regretted the incident and apologised.

However, the court also heard that a second set of incidents occurred between the 22 November 2007 and the 15 January 2008 along the Nutcombe Valley Stream. As part of the construction of the Hindhead tunnel the company cleared a large area of woodland at Tyndalls Wood in Nutcombe Valley. A drainage system should have been installed prior to the works to divert any existing road run-off from entering the site. This would discharge downstream of the works area without being contaminated, ensuring that the Nutcombe Valley Stream would not be affected by this scheme.

On the 23 November 2007 the Environment Agency received a report from the Environment Manager of Balfour Beatty that discolouration of some of the ponds in the Nutcombe Valley had occurred. Environment Officers attended the site and took samples on five of the ponds, all analyses confirmed silt pollution. Again company officers were interviewed under caution. Further silt pollution of the Nutcombe Valley Ponds was reported on 2 December 2007 and the 14 January 2008.

In sentencing Balfour Beatty, magistrates took into account the company's early guilty plea and cooperation with the Environment Agency. They also recognised that Balfour Beatty had not gained financially by allowing the pollution to occur. However, magistrates found that management failures and lack of proper supervision had contributed to the incidents.

Environment Management Team Leader James Liney said: “Both Milhanger Lake and Nutcombe Valley Stream Ponds are good quality water courses which provide an excellent natural habitat for a wide diversity of aquatic plants and animals. Luckily, this time, there were no serious impacts to the environment. However, a sustained discharge of this kind could have had devastating impacts on both the ecology and water quality of the watercourses. What is of great concern is that it appears that a large company failed to follow their own procedures to minimise the risk of causing pollution.”

“We are pleased that the court took strong action today. It sends a clear message to other companies that if you fail in your responsibilities to the environment, we will prosecute you.”

Both the Milhanger Lake and Nutcombe Valley Stream Pond are classified as being of good water quality. In particular the Nutcombe Valley stream supports invertebrates that are very sensitive to poor water quality. Various populations of aquatic species including carp, golden rudd, golden orfe, chubb, freshwater mussels, eels and crayfish have also been found living in these ponds.

Members of the public are encouraged to contact the Environment Agency on-0800 807060 where they have observed signs of a pollution incident at any of their local watercourses.

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