The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

June 2, 2014

Limestone faces 3 environmental violations from L&S debris

ADEM: Debris inquiry could take 5 weeks

ATHENS — Tuesday, the Limestone County Commission is expected to discuss the controversy swirling around removal of building debris from the county-owned L&S property in Athens to farmland near Elkmont.

The 10 a.m. meeting at the Clinton Street annex could possibly adjourn into a lengthy executive session to discuss possible litigation after the Alabama Department of Environmental Management mailed three violation notifications to the county in May.

ADEM officials have cited the county for at least three land or air violations involving the former L&S shopping center on North Jefferson Street and private farmland on Leggtown Road in District 4. Ben Harrison is the second-year commissioner for District 4.

In April, county workers supervised by District 3 Commissioner Bill Latimer and District 3 Foreman Tom Kilgore removed the remaining L&S buildings from the seven-acre property purchased for $525,000 by then-commissioners Bill Daws and Gerald Barksdale, current District 1 Commissioner Gary Daly and Latimer in May 2012. Salvaged metal was taken to Denbo Iron & Metal in Decatur and other debris went to the Leggtown farmland.

Harrison estimated approximately 60 loads were taken to the farmland, and at least six of the piles have been burning or smoldering since late April.

The first two violations stemmed from lack of procedural compliance, ADEM Air Division Chief Ronald Gore said. In a May 9 letter to the county, he stated he first learned about the county’s L&S demolition through a May 5 ADEM inspection.

A commercial building must be “thoroughly inspected for the presence of asbestos prior to demolition,” and ADEM requires 10 days’ advance notification about commercial demo projects, according to Gore.

“We have determined there were violations, and the commission has said it did violate (ADEM policy),” Gore said. “We’re gathering more information about what happened to the material after the building was demolished and taken to another site.

“When we get the info on that, we will decide whether to have a monetary penalty against the commission, the person who received the debris, or both.”

He said officials could take at least five weeks to make a determination, basing their report on factors such as the seriousness of the violations, standard of care for the debris removal, a history of previous violations, whether the county benefited financially and the level of cooperation provided after the discovery of a violation.

“The Alabama Legislature has given us the authority and range for fines — it’s up to $10,000 per day per violation,” Gore said. “Environmental violations are so varied because it includes corporations, individuals and government agencies. It’s not the same situation as when someone runs a stop sign and there is a set amount for a fine.”

Gore, who has been with ADEM for 40 years, said “in general, commercial buildings need to be inspected” by a licensed environmental inspector.

He said he has no record of any past ADEM violation by the county, adding “thus far” the county has been cooperative and has responded to written requests for information about the debris removal.

The third documented violation is for taking assorted L&S debris to farmland at 26679 Leggtown Road — rented by Johnny Abernathy and owned by Terry Clemmons — and allowing the property to be used as “an unauthorized solid waste dump,” according to a May 22 letter from ADEM Land Division Chief Phillip Davis and received by the county on May 29.

The News Courier spoke to all four current commissioners — Latimer, Daly, Harrison and Steve Turner of District 2 — and the chairman, confirming all five knew the remaining buildings would be razed. Latimer has spearheaded the L&S building removal project since January 2013.

The four commissioners also said they did not realize an environmental inspection was required at the L&S site before demolishing the buildings, or that they were required to notify ADEM.

ADEM, in a letter dated May 22, informed the county that it failed to obtain a landfill permit, allowing the Leggtown land to be used by the county for debris dumping. Abernathy had been given a deadline to have the debris fires put out by May 15, according to another ADEM letter dated April 30.

Multiple reports indicate residents living near the dumpsite have complained of overpowering fumes coming from the burning debris, which was described as “imported lumber (some treated), insulation, metal and other unauthorized debris” by ADEM inspector Scott Gravette from a May 7 inspection.

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