Coors reaches agreement with DOW over 2000 beer spill

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Beer spill costs Coors $500,000.

December 25, 2001

Incident in 2000 killed state-estimated 50,000 fish in Clear Creek

By Todd Hartman, Rocky Mtn News Staff Writer

Coors Brewing Co. will spend more than $500,000 to make amends for a beer spill in 2000 that the state says killed more than 50,000 fish in Clear Creek.
An agreement between the Golden company and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, revealed Monday, calls for Coors to:

Construct and monitor a wetland of at least two acres to filter the brewery's wastewater before it flows into Clear Creek. The wetland should reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater effluent and provide wildlife habitat.

Purchase thousands of fish for stocking in metro-area waters. The number of fish, and the species, will be determined by Coors and state officials next year.

Provide funding for two graduate students to participate in studies related to the wetlands project.

The settlement is far below the $35-per-fish ceiling set by state law -- an amount that could have brought a $1.7 million fine. But it's rare for the agency to go to court for the maximum amount, Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said.

The number of fish that were killed was a sticking point in the settlement talks. While the Division has put the number at more than 50,000, no figures were included in a news release Monday, nor in a memorandum of understanding.

"Determining the exact number of fish killed in accidents can be difficult, depending on stream flow, legal access and climate," the agency's news release said.

After a year of failed talks, the Division of Wildlife sued over the fish kill in state court in August. But discussions continued, resulting in an agreement trumpeted by both sides Monday.

"As a Colorado company with roots in this state, we believe this agreement will benefit Colorado's natural resources, our company and Coloradans," said John Schallenkamp, Coors vice president of engineering and technical services.

State wildlife officials said the value of the settlement could be far more than $500,000 if the wetlands project proves to be a model.

Workers will employ a variety of wetlands, using different plants and soils. They'll evaluate the ability of the wetlands to remove chlorine from wastewater. The project deadline is Jan. 1, 2004.

"The wetlands project has the potential to benefit Colorado's waterways and fisheries for decades to come," said Division of Wildlife Director Russ George.

The settlement follows a separate one reached in August between Coors and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for violations of clean water laws related to the beer spill.

That agreement included a cash fine of $117,280 and an order that the company undertake a thorough study of its wastewater plant to prevent a repeat offense.

The penalties stem from an Aug. 24, 2000, incident, when a new operator mistakenly sent 77,000 gallons of beer to the facility's wastewater treatment plant, instead of to beer-aging tanks.

By early the next morning, the wastewater plant was overwhelmed, and was discharging highly polluted, oxygen-depleting water into Clear Creek. Dead fish included yellow perch, green sunfish, sand shiners and smallmouth bass.

A beer spill from Coors in 1991 killed roughly 13,000 fish. In a settlement with wildlife officials then, the company agreed to improve sections of fish and wildlife habitat in and along five miles of Clear Creek, at a cost of about $25,000.
 

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