State: Clean Up, Or Else -- Black Mountain Slapped with Lawsuit

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

A Debeque wastewater disposal company has been slapped with a lawsuit. The State Department of Health says Black Mountain has had enough chances to clean up toxic chemicals from a spill seven years ago and Black mountain is talking only to 11 News.

The state has filed a motion for a temporary injunction against Black Mountain Disposal Facility, telling the company to clean up or else.

Black Mountain says it has been trying to clean up and the state is being unfair.

A judge started hearing evidence in the case on Tuesday but the battle between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Black Mountain Disposal Facility of Debeque started long before it hit the courtroom.

It has been coming to a boil over the last eight years and the state says the toxic chemicals that were spilledl may still be floating around in the groundwater.

What started with a tear in a wastewater pit liner has opened up a eight year battle between Black Mountain and the Colorado Department of Health.

The spill in 2001 spewed benzene, a carcinogen into the dirt and groundwater at the Black Mountain Disposal Facility in Debeque.

But it's not the spill itself but what happened afterwards that has the state calling foul and slapping Black Mountain with a lawsuit.

"What we're asking people to do is if you make a mess clean it up. We've given them plenty of time to do it and they still haven't done it," Joe Schieffelin, the Solid and Hazardous Waste Program Manager with the Department of Health told 11 News during a telephone interview on Tuesday.

He says after almost eight years, at least a half a dozen inspections and warnings, Black Mountain has not met the state's requirements.

"Court is very expensive for us. It's very expensive for them. That's not something we'd prefer but in cases like this where we can't get any action out of the facility that's what we'll do," said Schieffelin.

But Black Mountain's attorney Kristopher Hammond says his client has done nothing but try to comply with the state.

"They've spent $100,000 re-lining their ponds, drilling wells and implementing bio-remediation to try to get rid of the benzene. It's working and this is the thanks they get," Hammond told 11 News outside of a Mesa County courtroom on Tuesday.

In addition to the battle with the state, Mesa County has also pulled permits, shutting black mountain down.

"Even though they're not making any money, they're continuing to spend money to reduce the problem," said Hammond.

And while the two sides battle it out in court, what is still unknown is how far that plume of Benzene has traveled in the last eight years.

"We know the contamination hasn't gone for instance a mile off the sight, and we know it has gone more than 50 feet, but we don't know where it has gone to," said Schieffelin.

And the state says that one tear in pit liner, could cause problems for both black mountain and its neighbors for years to come.

Health officials tell 11 News neighboring wells have tested negative for Benzene but officials say they don't know whether or not that chemical could show up in the future until they get more information from Black Mountain.

The judge is expected to make a ruling later this week.

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