The Press Newspaper
Funds in an account used by Oregon for environmental purposes has dropped sharply due to legal battles between the city and Envirosave Services of Ohio, Inc.
Council last week appropriated $70,000 from the general fund to pay for professional services because there wasn’t enough money in the 975 account. The city collects approximately $200,000 annually in fees it charges Envirosafe to dump hazardous waste into its landfill. The state of Ohio gets $9 per ton of waste dumped in the landfill, and the city gets 10 percent of that, or .90 per ton. The revenue is earmarked in its hazardous waste fund known as the 975 account.
Finance Director Kathy Hufford said the city will be able to collect the amount later on.
“We expect to collect enough money by the end of the year to be able to make that expenditure,” she said at a Sept. 15 council meeting.
Councilman Bill Myers wanted better accountability of the funds.
“Back in the winter, we discussed air monitors, and I believe we referred to the 975 account,” said Myers. “If my memory serves me correctly, I thought there was between $70,000-$80,000 in the account, which was at that time something similar to what one air monitor would cost.”
Hufford said as recently as last week that the account was down by $50,000, according to Myers.
“That kind of caught me by surprise that there was that much of a drawdown in that account along with the money that’s supposed to be coming in there all the time,” he said. “I was caught by surprise that there wasn’t more than enough money in that account by this time to handle this expenditure. That kind of caught me off guard.”
Law Director Paul Goldberg said that the bulk of the funds in the account is used to pay Tom Hays, a lawyer that represents the city on environmental matters.
Hays has been working on two appeals the city has filed with the Environmental Review Appeals Commission (ERAC) regarding its opposition to the expansion of Envirosafe’s Cell M, Envirosafe’s only active hazardous waste landfill. The city has also used the account to pay ARCADIS, an engineering firm that the city hired as consultants to evaluate Envirosafe’s expansion during the appeals process.
“It seems to me that we had a balance with ARCADIS of between $20,000-$30,000 at that time, too,” said Myers. “I remember the fact there was extra money in their account. Is that extra still in the fund, or have they drawn that down, too?”
Goldberg said there was still money in the ARCADIS fund.
“But they continue to do work. As they continue to do work, the contract gets closer and closer to zero,” said Goldberg. “I think we just got a bill from them recently. I believe we still have $11,000 within that contract. So they can still do another $11,000 worth of work under the contract.
Myers asked if that amount will go toward the $78,865 contract the city approved to hire ARCADIS to install monitoring wells on the city’s rights of way adjacent to Envirosafe to test for contamination that might be migrating off site.
“That is earmarked for something else,” said Goldberg. “That contract is for assisting us in the ERAC appeals. Keep in mind we have a hearing coming up in January, and the rest of the contract will probably be to pay their fees. Envirosafe counsel has asked the Environmental Review Appeals Commission to set aside three weeks for that hearing. This is going to be a long hearing, and we’re going to need those folks to help us. So we have to pay them.”
Part of the reason the account has been depleted more than in previous years, he added, is that Envirosafe has not been putting as much waste in the landfill.
“The revenue hasn’t been as much as it has been in other years, which means Envirosafe has not been putting quite as much tonnage into Cell M as they have in the past,” said Goldberg. “Normally, in the past, we’d get $180,000 to $200,000 per year. I think we’re getting a little bit less this year. So those three factors would account for [fewer funds in the account].”
Former Councilman Sandy Bihn, who for years has been opposed to dipping into the 975 account for legal fees, called it a waste of money.
Bihn, who helped negotiate the .90 per ton fee for the city when Cell M was built years ago, told The Press last week that most of the funds are wasted on legal fees.
“By and large, it’s been used for legal fees against Envirosafe for the last three to four years,” said Bihn. “Envirosafe has already expanded Cell M. The legal fees haven’t really produced results that I’ve seen through the years. I think it’s just been a waste of money.”
Using the 975 account to pay ARCADIS to install monitoring wells adjacent to Envirosafe is appropriate, she added, because it will improve the environment.
“I think the money should be used as judiciously as possible and ought to be result-oriented,” she said.