EPA: Biomass’ troubles not over

Published 11:34 am Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official is taking issue with Biomass’ contention that its EPA problems are all solved.

Erin Strouse, spokeswoman for the EPA, said Biomass President Mark Harris’ recent letter to the Lawrence County Commission contained some inaccuracies regarding Biomass’ responsibility for cleaning up coal waste at its South Point site.

In his letter, Harris indicated environmental issues at the site had been resolved because the performance bond on the waste removal project had been paid as well as fines that were levied against the company for its delay in removing objectionable material from its plant.

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Strouse said the Ohio EPA does not consider the environmental issues resolved. The original consent order dated June 2004 clearly puts the responsibility of removing the coal waste at Biomass upon Mr. Harris, Strouse said. She pointed out that order has never been vacated.

“While Mr. Harris has since paid the fees and stipulated penalties, it is still his responsibility to remove the coal waste,” Strouse said. “Ohio EPA has pulled the performance penalty bond money to apply toward the first phase of the waste removal. Using this money, the agency will remove the waste to the extent that it can. The agency’s expectation is that Mr. Harris will fulfill his responsibility to ensure the total waste removal and therefore achieve compliance with the orders.”

Harris said Thursday morning he believes money put up for the performance bond is more than enough to remove the remaining coal waste.

Harris also refuted Strouse’s claim that the total removal of the coal waste is his company’s responsibility.

“It’s our legal opinion that once they call the bond they have the burden of removing the coal,” he said. “Once they took that bond money, they’re responsible. That’s our legal opinion.”

The bond amounted to a little more than $500,000. The amount of coal waste at the site amounts to approximately 40,000 tons.

Harris wrote the letter to the Lawrence County Commission, asking that entity to approve their right of way request for an overhead transmission line crossing U.S. 52. In his letter, Harris said his outfit had paid all the back taxes it owed the county as well.

Biomass has had a lengthy history of clashes with state and federal officials over the stockpiling of waste at the site and delinquent taxes.