Start of the fight : 09/07/2012
Fight won by : Jean-Vincent
On the 5th of July 2012, an accident occurred in the Smufit Kappa paper factory in Biganos (Gironde Department), which led to a crack in one of the tanks. As a result, hundreds of cubic meters of black liquid discharged into the Lacanau Stream and from there flowed into the Leyre River, which is the main tributary of the Arcachon Basin. Despite the consequences of the accident, a Prefectural Decree from the 9th of July 2012 authorised the factory to discharge a further 50,000 cubic meters of black liquid via the La Salie Wharf, threatening both users and the fauna and flora in this particularly sensitive area.
Surfrider Foundation Europe pressed charges against Smurfit on the 25th of July 2012 for the discharge of said black liquid into the natural environment. The lawsuit took place on the 24th of June 2013 at a tribunal in Bordeaux. The SFE Gironde Chapter got mobilised with the Keeper right from the beginning to offer its support, and the same went for the association Le betey, plage boisée à sauvegarder, which is also involved in another battle.
On the 25th of July 2012, SFE doubled its efforts by involving the public prosecutor in January 2013 and the Biganos police station in February 2013. Two gatherings took place on the 28th of July 2012: The first, organised by the people, was a 'Walk through the streets of Arcachon to the Sub-Prefecture' and drew a crowd of more than 500 participants. The second was organised by Surfrider and consisted in a Strike of the Water Sports Activists, demanding the complete halt of all discharges via the wharf. The latter gathered more than 150 people. Thanks to this mobilisation, SFE was able to inform its members about this assault on the environment.
An informative meeting was organised on the 7th of October 2012 by the Keeper, the local chapter, and SFE to take stock of the local actions which had been carried out so far. The paper mill declined its invitation but has since struck up talks with the users (fishermen, surfers, and others), in which the Keeper is participating. The Keeper managed to set up a specific dialogue between Smurfit, the Intercommunal Syndicate of the Arcachon Basin (SIBA), and local surf schools; a hitherto unseen form of local consultation. One of the outcomes of this consultation was an agreement to create an alerting protocol to be implemented when the water appears suspicious. Hence, the surf clubs are now taking water samples, which are then passed on to SIBA for analysis. All concerned parties have been made aware of this.
This form of cooperation has not been attempted in the past. The meetings are organised quarterly, and they promote transparent and constructive dialogue with the aim of moving forward together.
5th of July 2012: Accident at the paper factory.
Mobilisation of the Betey association and the 'Michel d'Agata' association, which is represented by the Keeper of the Coast Jean-Vincent.
9th of July 2012: A prefectural decree authorises the discharge of sludge from the accident into the ocean.
11th of July 2012: Following the accident, the Keeper of the Coast contacts Smurfit and the Sub-Prefecture, asking if they are planning on discharging the liquids (a mix of black liquid and fresh water, pumped into the Lacanau Stream) into the ocean via the La Salie Wharf. He is assured that none of the liquid from the accident will be discharged into the marine environment. And yet, as a matter of fact, a prefectural decree from the 9th of July had already authorised these discharges.
14th of July 2012: The Keeper organises a gathering at the Wharf to inform the users (80 people present).
21st of July 2012: Meeting pertaining to the accident (the Biscarosse Vigilance Committee takes part). The associations' representatives express their support for:
- seizing the administrative court with regards to the prefectural authorisation for discharges into the ocean;
- initiating criminal proceedings against Smurfit regarding the conformity of their storage conditions for the black liquid, and the conformity of their contingency procedures, considering the nature of the industrial processes employed in proximity of sensitive habitats.
25th of July 2012: SFE presses charges against Smurfit at the Biganos Police Station.
28th of July 2012: Organisation of two rallies. The first, organised by the people, is a "march through the streets of Arcachon to the Sub-Prefecture" (500 participants), and the second is organised by the Keeper and consists of a "Strike of the Water Sports Activists at the La Salie Wharf" (over 150 participants).
31st of July 2012: Filing of urgent submissions by the associations SEPANSO (Regional Federation of Associations for Nature Protection in Aquitaine ), and CEBA (Environmental Organisation of Arcachon Bay), and by the oyster farmers.
2nd of August 2012: The President of SIBA (Michel Sammarcelli; SIBA = "Syndicat Intercommunal du Bassin d'Arcachon"/'Intercommunal Federation of Arcachon Bay'), which manages the La Salie Wharf, unites the concerned politicians and associations at CEBA.
3rd of August 2012: Thank you emails containing a video link and information are sent out to Surfrider Foundation Europe supporters. The association also submits an interim suspension order via Brice Chollon, lawyer and volunteer at the SFE Gironde Chapter.
14th of August 2012: Hearing at the Administrative Court in Bordeaux.
23rd of August 2012: The factory resumes operations.
August 2012: Sociological investigation into tourists and the impact of the accident on their future choice of holiday destinations.
July to August 2012: Current dilution of the black liquid with the sea water is 1:9, which means that around 40,000 m3 have been discharged into the ocean over that period.
23rd of September 2012: The Keeper Jean-Vincent holds a stall at an event organised by Damnatur to spread information on his fight.
1st of October 2012: Meeting between Jean-Vincent and Smurfit aiming to organise an informative get-together.
7th of October 2012: Informative meeting between the Keeper, the Surfrider Gironde Chapter, and SFE to take stock of the local SFE actions. 30 people take part.
18th of October 2012: The Keeper meets with surf schools and clubs, offering them to participate in a meeting with the Smurfit managers. Objective: Making progress together. They agree to join the meeting.
29th of October 2012: Four months after the occurrence of the industrial pollution, the regional Prefect Michel Delpuech signs a decree, which establishes the monitoring committee for the Smurfit-Kappa site in Biganos.
November 2012: Smurfit agrees to enter into talks with the users (surf schools/clubs, fisher people, etc.).
17th of November 2012: A fire breaks out in a dryer at the Smurfit factory.
December 2012: Surfrider Foundation Europe contacts the office at the Court in Bordeaux (which is investigating the case). Proceedings for environmental offences will begin shortly.
January 2013: SFE lodges a complaint with the public prosecutor.
9th of January 2013: Meeting between the Keeper, Smurfit, SIBA, and the surf schools and clubs (OceanRoots, SevenSeas, Surf en Buch, and Vigie de Bisca). Everyone agrees on one thing: An alerting protocol should be set up so warnings can be issued if the water turns black, if there is visible persistent white foam, or if there is any effervescence in the water. Samples can be taken by the schools and clubs using glass bottles. Jean-Vincent then sends them to SIBA for analysis, and he informs all concerned parties (clubs, schools, and Smurfit) and SFE. The results will be shared with the same parties.
Further agreements include: a discontinuation of the discharges when major events are occurring at the La Salie site. An informative flyer on the nature and purpose of the Wharf should be supplied to the surf schools by SIBA.
This meeting will be repeated every trimester. At the next meeting, the warning system can be assessed and results can be discussed. Additionally, SIBA commits to explain their position on various points (e.g. bathing, colour of the water, etc.) in a special session as part of the meetings.
22nd of February 2013: Signing of the notice for the court proceedings by the Keeper at Biganos Police Station.
28th of March 2013: Meeting between Jean-Vincent and Smurfit.
Smurfit has a budget of €500,000 allocated for improvement work at the factory to turn it into a showcase site.
April 2013: The crisis management system proposed in January will be financed by Smurfit and SIBA (Budget: €13,000).
24th of June 2013: Smurfit trial: The public prosecutor imposes a €40,000 fine on the paper mill. SFE, who acted as a civil plaintiff, claims €8,337 for damages.
2nd of September 2013: Due to "the absence of any real certainty on the cause of the accident, of proof of reckless behaviour, and of characterisation of a moral element", the judges acquit the company Smurfit Kappa despite the fact that the public prosecution had previously imposed a €40,000 fine during the trial in June.