The owner of a recreation center in Nowy Targ (Lesser Poland Voivodeship) will stand trial for polluting Biały Dunajec. Inspectors of the Provincial Inspectorate of Environmental Protection emphasize that, among other things, petroleum substances were leaking into the river from the hotel and restaurant. – I have not and do not discharge any sewage – swears Mirosław W., who praises the proximity of nature on his facility’s website.
Untreated sewage has been flowing into the Biały Dunajec River in Nowy Targ – near the Bór na Czerwonem nature reserve – since at least April 2022. It was then that environmental protection inspectors began to inspect the recreation center, from which pollutants were being discharged through a rapid stream through a pipe buried underground.
Most likely, pollutants had been pouring into the environment much earlier – this is indicated by both the Provincial Inspectorate of Environmental Protection and the commune. Officials received the first reports on this matter in 2017.
– This is a popular area. A few years ago, we received the first signals from walkers that some smelly liquid was leaking from the restaurant near the slope. The entrepreneur informed us that he was in the process of building a home sewage treatment plant. He declared that until it was completed, he would collect sewage in a tight tank and transport it to a safe place. Inspections revealed that the tanks were leaking. In turn, the treatment plant was built, but the sewage discharged from it did not meet the requirements contained in the water law permit, so it was withdrawn by Polish Waters, and the investor received an order to demolish the installation – reports the mayor of Nowy Targ, Grzegorz Watecha, in an interview with tvn24.pl.
WIOŚ: petroleum substances flowed into the river
As Magdalena Gala, spokeswoman for the Provincial Inspectorate of Environmental Protection in Krakow, informs us, the inspection carried out in the spring of 2022 lasted over a month. The conclusions were devastating: WIOŚ inspectors in Kraków found that “untreated sewage containing petroleum substances” was constantly leaking into the soil and water from the plant premises.
Meanwhile, the owner of the complex, which includes, among others, a hotel and a wedding house, boasts on his website about the charming location of the facility surrounded by nature and points to the proximity of the reserve and the river.
As Wody Polskie informs us, the entrepreneur was not only supposed to release untreated sewage into the environment, but the pollutants were to flow through an installation for which the water permit had been withdrawn. For this he was fined the highest possible amount of PLN 500. Subsequent inspections did not bring any changes.
– The case was put on a knife edge by the entrepreneur’s failure to effectively resolve the situation. We were forced to report her to the prosecutor’s office, says Mayor Watecha.
The prosecutor’s office accuses the entrepreneur
In June 2022, the commune and WIOŚ informed the prosecutor’s office about the situation. Environmental protection inspectors told investigators that the standards for permissible concentrations of pollutants were repeatedly exceeded. Moreover, the analyzes of the samples showed that toxic substances must have accumulated in the tested soil for a long time.
The inspectors found that the entrepreneur’s activities constituted a crime. The District Prosecutor’s Office in Nowy Targ has similar assumptions, which on October 12, 2023, submitted an indictment to the court against Mirosław W. The investigation lasted over a year.
Investigators found, among other things, that the entrepreneur did not conduct proper waste management. – The man is accused of committing an act under Article 182 of the Penal Code. In this case, we are talking about polluting water and land in such a way that it may threaten human life or health or cause a significant reduction in the quality of water or the earth’s surface or significant destruction of plants or animals – explains Krzysztof Bryniarski, head of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Nowy Targ.
Mirosław W. is also accused of causing this pollution in connection with “the operation of an installation operating within the plant, in the scope of using the environment for which a permit is required.” The Penal Code provides for a penalty ranging from one to even 10 years of imprisonment.
Owner: I have not and do not discharge any sewage
The owner of the center sees the matter differently. Mirosław W., answering our questions by e-mail, writes as follows: “I have not and do not discharge any waste/sewage or petroleum products anywhere.”
The entrepreneur emphasizes that during the pandemic, diseases COVID-19 its operations were closed, making the start-up of the sewage treatment plant “not possible due to the lack of sewage.” It was then that the water permit to use the installation was to be withdrawn, as W. explains, “due to the inability to check whether the treatment plant would function properly.”
Officials do not confirm this. In response to our questions, Wody Polskie informs that the sewage treatment plant was “operated improperly” and that subsequent inspections showed pollutants flowing from the outlet hidden under the concrete slab and stones. W. explained in the fall of 2020 that the sewage treatment plant was not completed and would be modernized. Until then, it was supposed to collect sewage in tight tanks and transport it away. In September 2021, officials called on him to provide evidence of this, but the entrepreneur was to ignore this letter.
It was as a result of these actions by Mirosław W., and not as a result of the “inability to check” the operation of the treatment plant, that the water permit was withdrawn, according to Wody Polskie. Ultimately, the District Construction Supervision Inspectorate issued an order to demolish the sewage treatment plant.
What about the pipe through which, according to the Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, “a dark liquid with an intense odor typical of petroleum substances was discharged”? W. claims that it is not his installation. “Previously, there was a traffic center on my property, and I bought the property from the city hall. However, the city office did not provide me with the documentation of the water and sewage installation of my property when purchasing it. Due to the fact that city officials dug up an installation that I had no idea existed, I took all steps protective and repair measures, of which I kept the authorities inspecting me informed on an ongoing basis. He adds that “the pipe has been plugged and secured.” However, it does not specify when. It does not refer to a number of other departures found, among others, by Nowy Targ officials.
In response to our questions, the entrepreneur swears that, together with the inspectors, he has created “the beginnings of a system for monitoring leaks of small/trace amounts of unknown hydrocarbon substances of unknown origin and undisclosed course in the field.” We are asking about this system at the offices that inspected the complex. The officials we talk to know nothing about such a system. Mirosław W. also claims that he took steps, among other things, to block leaks and protect the environment, as well as to identify the pipes that existed there before he became the owner of the complex.
However, such pipes are only some of the outlets detected by inspectors – some of the installations are connected to facilities built by W.
“The Provincial Inspectorate of Environmental Protection determined beyond all reasonable doubt that contamination had occurred, which was documented in the inspection report and resulted in, among other things, notifying the prosecutor’s office,” Magdalena Gala, spokeswoman for the Provincial Inspectorate of Environmental Protection in Krakow, tells us.
The investigation was ongoing and sewage was still flowing into the river
The turn of winter and spring 2023. Even though the Nowy Targ prosecutor’s office had been checking for many months whether the entrepreneur had committed a crime, pollutants were still being poured into the watercourses leading to Biały Dunajec. This was confirmed by an inspection of the Nowy Targ City Hall.
As Nowy Targ officials emphasize, the WIOŚ inspectors informed about the inspection did not appear at the recreation complex at that time. They only asked for documentation.
“During the inspection, the slope was found to be contaminated with waste and an active landslide that could pose a threat to life and health. Taking into account the above, employees of the Nowy Targ City Hall notified the District Police Headquarters in Nowy Targ of a suspected crime,” we read in the announcement from the city hall sent to the local portal. podhale24.pl.
Nowy Targ officials expressed hope that the services’ actions will “definitely end the process of environmental degradation in the area of the Bór na Czerwonem nature reserve covered, among others, by the International Ramsar Convention.”
This reserve is one of only 19 areas in Poland protected by the Ramsar Convention, the aim of which is to preserve internationally important wetlands in the best possible condition. In this document, the importance of Bor na Czerwonem was equalized with, for example, the mouth of the Vistula River, the post-glacial ponds of the Tatra National Park and six national parks. It is also one of the oldest nature reserves in Poland – it was established in 1925.
Podhale flows with sewage
Although the case of the recreation center in Nowy Targ is particularly striking, it is not the only one responsible for polluting Biały Dunajec – a river that also flows through the commune of the same name, located right next to Zakopane.
Residents of the Biały Dunajec commune regularly learn that something bad is happening to the water. Sometimes from the Sanitary Inspectorate’s announcements, and sometimes from the symptoms of food poisoning. Warnings about the presence of fecal bacteria – Escherichia coli – in water supplies were issued, for example, on September 13, July 27 and June 13. As the Onet portal found out, in this commune, from the beginning of 2021 to July 20 this year, the Sanitary and Epidemiological Station found contamination of water with Escherichia coli bacteria 21 times, other coliform bacteria 24 times, enterococci 18 times, and in one case even a high concentration of iron.
This is due to the fact that feces from leaky septic tanks regularly enter drinking water supplies. Some perpetrators are held accountable. – We have cases of owners of private houses against whom we have taken cases to court due to leaking septic tanks or even intentional pouring waste into ditches or meadows – admits the mayor of Nowy Targ.
For towns located closer to Zakopane, a particular problem – in the context of pollution – is the low water level and the influx of tourists, which the sewage system is not always able to cope with. In addition, the Biały Dunajec commune is located in a valley, which additionally struggles with waste flowing from the surrounding areas.
Examples of places struggling with similar problems can be found throughout Podhale. Residents of this town informed “Gazeta Wyborcza” about sewage flowing into the Czerwionka stream in Białka Tatrzańska. A similar problem in the case of the Białka stream was noticed, among others, by the local portal podhale24.pl. The reason is prosaic – the town still does not have a sewage system. In the spring of this year, the authorities of the Bukowina Tatrzańska commune started the construction of a new sewage treatment plant, which is to be an important step towards getting rid of the burdensome problem of sewage entering the environment. The sewage system in Białka Tatrzańska is to be built by 2027.
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