Despite pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charge of discharging pollutants without a permit, attorneys for Menards, Inc. said the dumping was not dictated by management, the company did not cause lasting harm to the environment, did not avoid the law, and immediately took action to prevent further pollution by sealing the drain. "That conduct clearly dictates a sentence of the lowest end of the guideline range," said defense attorney Doug Whitney.
Attorneys for the state disagreed, saying Menards has a record on non-compliance, and the maximum penalty of $25,000 per day should be even higher.
"We'll send a message to other corporations out there that aren't doing things properly," said assistant attorney general Jeffery Gabrysiak. "This is not going to be tolerated by the people of Eau Claire. This is not going to be tolerated by the people of the state."
"This is the second criminal prosecution of a large corporation that frankly, should have known better," says Eau Claire County Judge Lisa Stark.
Stark said in her decision that while Menards does provide a benefit to Eau Claire's economy, that can't be traded for environmental well-being. However, the immediacy and degree of the company's response played a major part in her decision to reduce fines.
Menards must pay $1.5 million dollars, plus an additional 35% in surcharges and costs, bringing the total to over $2 million. The company will not, as the state's requested, pay for attorney or investigation fees.
"The state is happy with the ruling," says assistant attorney general Hillary Schwab. "We sought the maximum, but we are happy with this penalty. It's significant."
"We are going to continue to reach out to the DNR and are hopeful that one day the DNR will reciprocate and work with us in partnership in protecting the environment," says Menards spokesperson Dawn Sands
Menards has the customary 60 days to make payment.