Local company punished for law violations

Panel Products has been fined $100,000 in Jackson County Circuit Court after the company owner admitted employees at the White City mill falsified records rather than obtaining proper permits.

Company owner Jeff McLaughlin and Panel Products were each facing 21 counts of supplying false information to a government agency and illegally discharging air pollutants when the case was filed in August 2007, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Karen Loomis.

In a plea agreement finalized on May 23, charges against McLaughlin were dropped and the corporation entered a guilty plea to two felony counts of supplying false information, Loomis said.

Prosecutors said the White City plant failed to comply with Department of Environmental Quality regulations by drying pine without obtaining the appropriate permits. Drying pine is legal with the right permit, but the process releases additional chemicals into the atmosphere and requires specific permitting, said Loomis.

Instead of obtaining the permit, mill employees engaged in a pattern of subterfuge and evasion with DEQ officials and investigators, Loomis said.

"They were (drying pine) at night, hiding pine when officials came by, and they were destroying records. Eventually, they got caught," said Loomis.

Per Ramfjord, attorney for Panel Products, said the plea agreement "resulted from the unfortunate acts of some employees who are no longer with the company."

Panel Products has since acquired the proper permit and "remains committed to sound environmental practices and compliance with the law," said Ramfjord.

"It's kind of ironic they didn't do that in the beginning instead of lying about it," Loomis said. "The DEQ takes (these violations) very seriously. This is certainly the largest fine I've ever seen."

Panel Products has been placed on probation for 18 months and will pay the court-ordered fine to three entities: $80,000 will go to Governor's Fund for the Environment; $10,000 to the Western States Project; and $10,000 to the state general fund, Loomis said.

John Becker, DEQ air quality manager in Medford, could not be reached for comment Thursday, but he said earlier that the permits are designed to allow the agency to monitor operations and for companies to agree to keep their emissions at certain levels.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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