Department of Ecology drops penalties in exchange for clean-up
By DAN WHEAT
GRANDVIEW, Wash. -- What state officials have said is one of the most egregious cases of hazardous waste dumping on a Washington farm has been resolved between the farm and the state Department of Ecology.
The owners of Double H Farms of Grandview signed an agreement May 3 in which they will pay Ecology $90,000 and investigate and clean up four more potential dumping sites on the farm without admitting any wrongdoing.
In exchange, Ecology is dropping all penalties and legal disputes related to alleged violations on the farm of Ecology's dangerous waste regulations.
Both parties are stipulating to a dismissal of the farm's appeal of Ecology's $165,000 penalty at the state's Pollution Control Hearings Board.
"A penalty doesn't achieve a cleanup. The appeal could languish in courts for years and this gets the cleanup done which has been our goal all along," said Joye Redfield-Wilder, Ecology spokeswoman.
Work at the sites should begin in 45 days, she said.
In March 2009, state investigators responded to a tip and used a magnetometer and ground-penetrating radar to find used oil and pesticide containers buried in shallow pits.
In September 2010, Ecology and the state Department of Agriculture announced nearly 200 containers and other items including car batteries had been excavated by contractors for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Double H paid more than $500,000 for the cleanup and reimbursement of EPA's investigation, Michael Gillett, a Seattle attorney representing Double H, said at that time.
The farm is a cherry orchard and vineyard owned by George and Edith Higgins of Sunnyside and operated by their daughter, Linda Hansen, and her husband, James Hansen, Gillett said.
Double H and James Hansen paid the Department of Agriculture $25,000 last summer to end that department's portion of the case while admitting no fault.
EPA completed a criminal investigation in June 2010 and referred it to the Yakima County prosecutor.
In September 2010, Ken Ramm, chief deputy prosecutor, said felony charges were likely. Now he said there was insufficient evidence of felonies and that it would have been a burden to pursue gross misdemeanors.
Years ago, George Higgins, with the apparent verbal blessing of local health authorities, allowed employees to bury household trash on the farm, Gillett has said. But neither he nor the Hansens buried or authorized anyone to bury chemicals or used oil, Gillett has said.
The sites were easily accessible from a road so anyone could have buried materials there, he has said.
He could not be reached for new comment.
Removal of contaminated soil from the site was completed in January 2011, she said.
Cliff Weed, pesticide compliance program manager of the Department of Agriculture, has said the case is the most egregious he's seen in his 25 years in enforcement.
Monitoring wells so far have shown no contamination leaving the site, Ecology said.