Judge says owner continues to ignore state orders
DES MOINES — A former Atlantic vehicle recycler must pay an additional $50,000 penalty for violating environmental laws and ignoring state orders to clean up the abandoned site, a judge has ruled.
Fourth District Chief Judge Jeffrey L. Larson also ruled that Jason Wright, who now lives in Colorado, is liable for future cleanup costs and could face contempt charges if he fails to comply with the order.
“Wright repeatedly ignored the DNR’s notifications, warnings, and an administrative order to remove the solid waste and contamination left behind by his company," Larson wrote in the ruling issued Feb. 21. “At trial, Wright appeared unconcerned about the condition of the property, and demonstrated no inclination he intends to comply with the administrative order.”
The ruling is on top of an order last April in which Chief Judge Larson imposed a $100,000 penalty on Wright’s business, Recycling Services LLC.
The Department of Natural Resources, represented by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, sued Wright and Recycling Services on Feb. 1, 2019, and the case was tried on Feb. 5, 2020, in Cass County.
The case began in June 2015, when the DNR received a complaint that contaminated storm water runoff was leaving the Recycling Services property at 102 State St. in Atlantic. Wright used the 1.65-acre site to recover and recycle used parts of automobiles and large machinery. DNR personnel inspected the site and found potential violations of storm water regulations and spilled hazardous fluids.
Subsequent soil testing found petroleum contamination including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and motor oil above statewide standards.
Wright closed the business in 2016. On July 2017, the DNR issued an administrative order requiring Recycling Services to clean up the site by October 2017 and pay a $7,000 penalty.
“Not only did Wright not comply with the October 1 deadline, he continues to disregard the requirements of the administrative order,” Larson said.
On Oct. 28, 2019, DNR employees inspected the site and found the property unchanged, according to the judge’s order. The site included several gas tanks and piles of waste 15 feet high, as well as petroleum contamination.
Wright testified at the trial that he has made no effort to comply with the order since it was issued.
Larson said at the time of trial, Wright had been in violation of the administrative order for more than 850 days. Because state law allows a maximum penalty of $5,000 a day, he could have faced a penalty of $4.25 million.