July 7, 2008

Former Business Owner Sued Over Oil Cleanup

By Sharon Kiley Mack, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Jul. 7--PITTSFIELD, Maine -- J. Kenton Wright, former owner of J.K. Wright Inc., a Chevrolet dealership and repair business on Somerset Avenue, is being sued by the state for his share of cleanup costs at a Plymouth Superfund site.

The suit states that Wright was notified of his responsibility 10 years ago.

The Hows Corner site was given Superfund status in 1987 when 10 local homeowners discovered their wells were contaminated with cancer-causing hazardous substances from the site.

Eventually, more than 250 potentially responsible parties -- referred to as PRPs -- including towns, school districts and businesses were identified that disposed of waste oil at the site for decades.

The state's suit alleges that Wright and his company generated waste oil in the 1970s and 1980s and that, on at least three occasions, the company shipped waste oil to the Plymouth site.

The suit maintains that J.K. Wright Inc. was notified that it was a PRP in 1998. About July 5, 2005, the company was dissolved and all assets were distributed to Wright. The state maintains that Wright's responsibility did not dissolve when the company was closed.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, untold tens of thousands of gallons of used motor oil, industrial oil and other solvents were collected legally from military bases, auto shops, municipalities and other companies and then stored in tanks before being sold as fuel or for dust control on dirt roads. Oil leaked onto the ground, however, and through fractures in the bedrock, contaminated local water supplies, forcing the creation of a local water district.

Considered one of Maine's most contaminated sites, the 17-acre site was once a waste oil facility operated by George West Jr. from 1965 to 1980.

While much of the surface contamination has been removed -- 850 tons of contaminated soil -- local groundwater supplies will likely be too toxic to use for generations to come.

Many of the PRPs have already paid off a settlement for their participation but the EPA and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection are still negotiating with more than 100 others.

The suit was filed last week in U.S. Federal Court in Bangor by Assistant Attorney General Mary M. Sauer.

Sauer is away on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The suit does not specify an amount the state is seeking, but asks for a judgment in an "amount not exceeding" the value of the cash and other assets obtained by Wright when the dealership was sold.

According to the DEP, Maine has spent an estimated $2 million on the site cleanup, while the EPA has invested more than $6 million. The PRPs, meanwhile, are expected to contribute $14 million to $15 million to the total project.

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