The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

May 4, 2012

Decades in making

Firms accused of years of industrial dumping to pay $5.5 million

Companies believed responsible for dumping decades’ worth of industrial waste into the Ashtabula River are participating in a proposed $5.5 million settlement announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ohio attorney general’s office.

“This agreement will compensate the public for precious natural resources damaged by hazardous pollutants released into the Ashtabula watershed over more than a half-century,” Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, said in the statement. “The settlement also fosters the restoration of wildlife habitat and recreational resources along the Ashtabula that the people of Ohio will be able to enjoy for many years to come.”

The proposed settlement is subject to approval by the district court following a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree is available online at justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.

The cleanup of the lower sections of the river and Ashtabula Harbor was one of the biggest civil engineering projects seen in the area. Material dredged from the waterway was sent via a special pipeline to a disposal site on State Road near Lake Road, where it was bagged and buried in a massive facility. Nearly 600,000 cubic yards of sediment was removed between 2006 and 2008, according to the statement.

Complaints filed by the United States and state of Ohio allege that at various times since the 1940s “numerous industrial facilities in Ashtabula” released an array of hazardous pollutants into the river. The contamination “injured natural resources in the Ashtabula River and harbor, resulting in fish consumption advisories and impaired navigational use of the river,” according to a statement.

To compensate the public for the loss of those natural resources, the government sought damages from “parties that allegedly owned or operated (either directly or through predecessors) facilities where hazardous substances were released,” as well as parties that helped dispose of the material, the release states.

Eighteen companies are participating in the settlement, while several federal agencies will make payments that total nearly $770,000. Responsible parties previously paid some $23 million toward the cost of the cleanup, as well as remediation of the Fields Brook superfund site which may have contributed to the contamination, according to the statement.

The consent decree was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on behalf of designated trustees, which includes the Department of the Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

“Completion of these negotiations marks a major milestone in our collective efforts to restore the Ashtabula River,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in the statement.

Under the terms of the agreement, several properties along the river will be acquired and habitat restoration work will be launched and protected. Under the consent decree, restoration projects approved by the natural resource trustees will be handled by two groups of responsible parties — a group of four railroad companies and a separate group of 14 companies known as the Ashtabula River Cooperating Group II.

The railroads will handle a restoration project on a 6.4 acre parcel which abuts a fish habitat enhancement project previously constructed as part of the Great Lakes Legacy Act sediment cleanup project, create a channel and replace invasive plant species with native plants and establish a wetland habitat.

ARCG II will develop and implement various restoration projects identified in the consent decree, including a 28-acre riverfront parcel along the northern boundary of Indian Trails Park. That project would control invasive species, plant native vegetation and install a canoe launch, boardwalk and small parking area.

Five other ARCG II restoration properties identified in the decree occupy more than 200 acres and include 3.4 miles of river frontage. Some adjoin or are close to areas held by the Ashtabula Township Park Commission.

In addition, ARCG II agreed to spend up to $1.45 million to acquire and restore additional properties.

The trustees will approve all restoration work. The restoration properties will ultimately be transferred to park districts, non-profit organizations or other institutions acceptable to the trustees.

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