Sweet Homefirm fined by DEQ over fiber piles

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality reported last week that $192,000 in fines levied against a pair of Western Renewable Resources operations on Dec. 26 were now due.

The DEQ named Western Renewable, Western Trucking and Dan Desler, managing partner of Western Renewable, when it issued a fine of $134,306 for “operating a solid waste disposal site without a permit” at 28389 Hwy. 20.

The DEQ issued a second fine, for $58,037, for “operating a solid waste disposal site without a permit” at 2210 Tamarack St., located at the north end of 24th Avenue. The DEQ named Western Renewable, Western Trucking, Desler and Western States Land Reliance Trust, which owns the property.

The named parties did not appeal the penalties to the DEQ by a Jan. 20 deadline, so the full penalty amounts are due to the state, according to DEQ officials.

Desler has countered that the materials are properly categorized as “inventory.” He also has said that Western Renewable is working to develope an Asian market for the inventory. Because it is inventory, Desler argues that it is not in violation.

According to a statement prepared by Brian White, a DEQ spokesperson, representatives of the companies in 2005 informed the DEQ that the Santiam Highway and Tamarack Street sites would be used to store small amounts of recyclable plastic and fiber waste from area pulp mills as part of a material recovery facility.

The DEQ statement explained the following:

These materials were to be stored under cover and eventually processed and removed from the site in a timely manner. At the same time, based on that information, DEQ told the parties that they didn’t need a solid waste disposal site permit.

However, beginning in 2006, the DEQ received complaints from the public about adverse environmental impacts from the sites and operations.

The concerns included blowing dust and fibers, trash and litter migrating onto neighboring properties, possible impacts to groundwater and potentially contaminated runoff from the sites entering the South Santiam River.

DEQ solid waste staff inspected the sites on Jan. 16, 2008 and found that they were not being operated as previously indicated, the department alleges. DEQ inspectors found considerably more fiber waste stored than indicated earlier in addition to an even larger amount of shredded plastic waste material, the department states.

Because those materials were not stored under cover, they were exposed to the elements, creating leachate, a potential fire hazard and potentially contaminated storm water runoff. In addition, at the Highway 20 site, inspectors noticed the accumulation of a significant amount of waste tires and demolition debris.

Little, if any, of these materials appear to have been used in material recovery operations, according to the DEQ.

On Feb. 28, 2008 DEQ requested that operators of both sites obtain the necessary solid waste permits or remove all waste from the sites. Western Renewable, Western Trucking and Desler did not apply for a permit at the Highway 20 site, the DEQ says.

Approximately 8,400 tons of fiber waste and 20 cubic yards of waste tires and demolition debris allegedly remained illegally stockpiled at the site at the time the DEQ issued the penalty in December, according to the agency.

At the Tamarack site, although Desler, WSLRT, Western Renewable and Western Trucking did apply for a DEQ Solid Waste letter of authorization for the site, the DEQ could not approve it because the operation was not in compliance with local laws, according to the statement.

Last year, the city Planning Commission revoked a conditional use permit for the operation because the use had changed at the site since its approval in 2006.

Allowing a “waste disposal site,” as the DEQ has called it, to operate would violate which would violate the city’s franchise agreement with Sweet Home Sanitation, according to city Community Development Director Carol Lewis said.

By the time the DEQ issued the December penalty, it estimated that nearly 3,100 tons of fiber and shredded plastic allegedly remained illegally stockpiled at the site, according to the DEQ staement.

As part of its enforcement action against the parties for the two sites, the DEQ has issued orders requiring the parties to remove the materials and either recycle them at a DEQ-approved facility or properly dispose of the materials at a state-permitted solid waste landfill.

As of mid-January, no materials from the Highway 20 site had been removed, and a small portion of the materials at the Tamarack site had been removed, according Julie Berndt, a DEQ solid waste specialist in Eugene.

In determining the size of the penalties, the DEQ factored in the economic benefits the parties gained by not properly transporting and disposing of the materials.

In its orders, the DEQ noted that if it receives documented proof that the materials at the two sites are properly disposed of, it will recalculate the penalty so that the environmental law compliance costs are designated as “delayed” rather than “avoided,” which could lead to reduced penalties.

DEQ officials say that penalties are deposited directly into the state’s General Fund.

The DEQ did receive a response to one of the notices on Jan. 23, three days after the deadline for an appeal for a DEQ administrative hearing, said Regina Cutler, a DEQ environemtnal law specialist. It addressed only the Tamarack site. She said she has a call in to Western Renewable’s attorney to clarify whether it also addresses the Highway 20 site.

A DEQ administrative hearing could be held if the parties can show the letter was late for reasons beyond their control, she said.

Barring appeals, the parties have until March 29 to remove material, according to the DEQ notice of civil penalty, or face further legal action to enforce the requirements. The fines are due on March 9 or the DEQ may file liens against property owned by the parties.

The parties also may appeal to the Court of Appeals within 60 days of the effective date of the fine, Dec. 29, she said. Otherwise the DEQ’s order to clean up the properties and fining the parties stands.

In September, Western Renewable filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the materials are part of the company’s inventory and not waste.

Desler said Friday he must re-file the lawsuit in a different jurisdiction, and he may take it to federal court.

“It’s just the fact, we think they’re wrong, and we’re going to sue them,” he said. “I think they got overly zealous, and I’m not sure why.

“The governor himself ran on a waste-to-energy platform.”

This is a case of the right hand and left hand doing different things, he said. “DEQ is doing their own thing.”

And like other state agencies reformed in recent years, he intends to lead a charge in reforming the DEQ, he said. “Our goal is to be treated the way we deserve to be treated. We haven’t done anything wrong.”

The DEQ has, he said, and “we have case law that supports our position.”

Desler noted that WSLRT is the landlord, that it is not affiliated with the operation in question and that it has nothing to do with the permitting issue. Desler is the managing trustee of WSLRT.

The fiber is waste left over from Weyerhaeuser operations and have been lab tested by Weyerhaeuser, he said, adding that the tests show the materials are inert.