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Home improvement retailer Menards Inc. pleaded guilty Monday to violating Wisconsin’s water pollution laws at its Eau Claire distribution center. The company could be fined up to $2.5 million.
In September, Atty. Gen. Peg Lautenschlager filed criminal charges against the company alleging it sent spray paint, solvent, oil and neutralized battery acid down a floor drain between September 2001 and September 2003. The chemicals eventually ended up in a tributary of the Chippewa River, according to the state.
Menards’ attorney and spokeswoman Dawn Sands said Menthe company disputes the state’s claim that hazardous chemicals were intentionally dumped down the drain. She said the company believes dirt and debris could have gone down the drain, which she said was installed incorrectly, but nothing more serious than that.
Sands said the drain was shut off immediately after state officials notified the company about the problem.
The company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of discharging pollutants into state waters without a permit. It faces a penalty of between $1,000 and $2.5 million when sentenced Aug. 8.
The state dropped a felony count of disposing hazardous wastes without a license after an Eau Claire County judge expressed doubts prosecutors could support the more serious charge.
Lautenschlager noted this was not Menards’ first offense with the state and maintained the company dumped more than dirt and debris down the drain.
With about 200 stores in ten Midwestern states, Menards is the nation’s third-largest chain of home improvement stores.