Environmental scare forces Jelgava sugar mill to shut down

  • 2005-10-12
  • Staff and wire reports
RIGA - A contaminated river full of dead fish led to a week-long cessation of production at the Jelgavas Cukurfabrika sugar mill and a fresh row among sugarbeet growers, mill owners and ministers in Riga.

The factory suspended work on Oct. 4 after being blamed for polluting the Lielupe River, where it empties its liquid waste, which in turn has affected fish and crustaceans

Experts had suspected that the fish died as a result of the sugar mill's operations, but independent tests failed to confirm this. Still, as a precautionary measure Environment Minister Raimonds Vejonis ordered the mill to cease discharging liquid waste into the river, forcing it to shut down completely.

Board chairman Janis Blumbergs said last week that nature had played against the sugar mill this fall since weather conditions led to an oxygen deficiency in the river water. Liquid waste from the plant only served as an additional factor, he said.

Eventually the sugar mill, the largest of two in Latvia, resumed production on Oct. 10, working at half-capacity for starters and then gradually returning to previous levels.

Jelgavas Cukurfabrika officials said that they were planning a complete overhaul of the mill's liquid-waste system. They said it would be connected to the local waste treatment facility by the next processing season, or next fall.

Still, the damage had been done. Sugarbeet farmers wrote a scathing letter to government ministers warning of dire consequences to a 1.4 million lat (2 million euro) harvest if the mill was not allowed to renew operations immediately.

Agriculture Minister Martins Roze, for his part, was quoted as saying he had no intention to compensate farmers for any losses related to the mill's shutdown. He said that the mill has run into environmental problems in the past and, had it invested properly, would have avoided the current situation, the Russian-language daily Telegraf reported.

Blumbergs responded by saying that mill owners have indeed invested their profits into modernizing the plant and that they do everything possible to prevent sugarbeet growers from incurring losses on their harvest, which spoils rapidly.

Jelgavas Cukurfabrika expected to process 305,000 tons of sugarbeets this year, or roughly the same amount as last year. In 2004 it posted a turnover of 17 million lats (24.2 million euros), down 6 percent from 2003, while earnings increased 34 percent to 2.1 million lats.