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Hazardous spills create give-and-take for builders

By Sean Ryan

A state program that puts contractors to work cleaning hazardous waste spills also sends agents after builders that violate the rules.

In a case settled this week in Clark County, the state did both on the same spill. According to the court ruling, Wisconsin will recover $40,700 from Daniel Wolf, a Granton resident and contractor who illegally dumped diesel fuel in the town of Grant during a 2006 excavation project. The penalties against Wolf will cover the state’s expense hiring two contractors to mop up pools of diesel fuel and remove 245 tons of contaminated dirt.

“We’re trying to let folks know that we do go out and collect these unpaid bills,” said Andrew Savagian, Department of Natural Resources outreach specialist for remediation and redevelopment. “Cost recovery is an important part of what we do.”

In the average year, the state responds to 800 or 900 spills, Savagian said.
Some spills involve contractors, such as Wolf, deliberately dumping gas, but many spills involving builders are minor, such as broken hydraulic hoses.

State agents, such as Scott Ferguson, DNR southeast region spills coordinator, respond to anything spilled that might harm the environment, whether it’s a leaking gas tank in a car wreck or an abandoned barrel of chemicals.

Ferguson said he can handle smaller spills himself with cat litter, sponges or plugs for leaking tanks. But the DNR must call on contractors to deal with the larger spills that require dirt removal or vacuuming large pools of chemicals.

The DNR pays for the cleanup in an emergency, when the culprit is unknown or when there is debate over responsibility, Ferguson said.

“If it’s on the Marquette Interchange,” Ferguson said, “we are not going to allow the party to shut down the Marquette Interchange for four days when they decide whether they’re responsible or not.”

Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc., Butler, is a contractor that performs some of the DNR cleanup work. According to the company’s service contract with the DNR, General Manager Chet Tadych is on call to respond whenever the company’s 20 employees are needed.

He said the DNR does a good job letting builders know the importance of cleaning up spills. More builders are signing contracts with Clean Harbors in case anything goes wrong on a project, he said.

“They’re starting to catch up with realizing they’ve got to monitor that and report,” Tadych said.

State agents are getting better at tracking down people who illegally dump hazardous waste, but they are still unable to recover all of the money the state spends to clean the spills.

The spills team collects, on average, $110,000 a year from those responsible for illegal spills, said Roxanne Nelezen Chronert, DNR spills team leader. But, so far in 2009, the most up-to-date records show the state spent about $138,000 hiring remediation contractors.

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