Texas company fined for oil spill near Grand Isle

Published 6:40 am Monday, June 20, 2022

NEW ORLEANS – United States Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that GREAT LAKES DREDGE & DOCK COMPANY, LLC (“GREAT LAKES”), a Texas company, was sentenced on June 14, 2022 for violating the Clean Water Act in connection with an oil spill and ordered to pay a $1 million fine.

According to court documents, GREAT LAKES 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, GREAT LAKES admitted that in its contract with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”), GREAT LAKES 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. GREAT LAKES 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 GREAT LAKES who operated the marsh buggy that physically caused the spill, was charged in a separate criminal case, No. 21-cr-8, and he pled guilty as charged on March 18, 2021 and is awaiting sentencing. According to court documents in Tassin’s case, after GREAT LAKES stopped complying with One Call requirements, a GREAT LAKES employee instructed Tassin to use his marsh buggy to dig near pipelines, despite that digging not being in NOAA’s approved plans, and without GREAT LAKES 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 GREAT LAKES employee instructed Tassin not to tell anyone that Tassin had been digging near the site of the spill, so Tassin followed that instruction. In GREAT LAKES’ plea documents, GREAT LAKES admitted that it supervised Tassin’s work and that GREAT LAKES’ negligent supervision of Tassin caused the oil spill.

“The defendant in this case recklessly violated regulations designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide their actions,” said Kimberly Bahney, Special Agent in Charge, of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana. “This sentencing demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”

“This sentencing sends a strong message to those responsible for ensuring the safety and integrity of the Nation’s pipeline transportation system,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-in-Charge, Southern Region, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “Together with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that justice is served.”

“The Department of Commerce OIG is dedicated to working with our partners to curb fraud, waste and abuse, especially when projects receiving NOAA funding result in environmental hazards. We greatly appreciate the cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement counterparts in ensuring justice is served in this matter,” said Jeffrey Lysaght, Special Agent in Charge, U.S Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General.

Judge Greg G. Guidry ordered GREAT LAKES to pay a criminal fine of $1 million and a mandatory special assessment fee of $125. Additionally, GREAT LAKES previously agreed to pay the victim pipeline company $3,166,667 in a related civil case, and Tassin’s employer also agreed in the same civil case to pay the victim an additional $1,666,667, for a total payment to the victim of over $4.8 million.

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. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas D. Moses is in charge of the prosecution.