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C6-Zero in court Monday to face lawsuit over cleanup
Point of contention may be whether state’s 45-day deadline is reasonable, expert says
State and local regulators will be joined by C6-Zero representatives for a hearing Monday in Iowa County over whether a judge should force the company to comply with an emergency order to clean up the site of a Dec. 8 explosion and fire.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office wants an Iowa County District Court to grant a temporary injunction requiring C6-Zero and owner Howard Brand III to:
- Clean up soil and water contaminated by oil and other chemicals
- Give the Iowa Department of Natural Resources a list of all chemicals used or stored at the Marengo plant where C6-Zero had been attempting to dissolve shingles
- Allow Iowa DNR officials access to the property
That first demand — and specifically a 45-day deadline for cleaning up the site — likely will be disputed during the hearing scheduled for an hour Monday, said Jerry Anderson, dean of the Drake University Law School and an expert in environmental and property law.
“Is the DNR asking them to do too much too soon?” Anderson said. ”That will be the main point of contention.”
The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit Jan. 11 against C6-Zero and Brand after the Iowa DNR said the company was late filing a plan for how to clean up the site, and the plan timeline also didn’t meet the 45-day deadline set out in a Dec. 15 emergency order.
While most of the polluted water is corralled in a retention basin for now during the winter, Marengo this spring will need to release water into the Iowa River, which supplies drinking water to downstream communities including Iowa City.
If a judge approves the injunction, the court could force Brand or C6-Zero to adhere to the emergency order or face fines or criminal charges, Anderson said. An injunction would allow the Iowa DNR to involve law enforcement to gain access to the Marengo site.
“The court can send out the sheriff to make sure DNR agents can do the inspections they need to do,” Anderson said.
C6-Zero employees denied entrance to the facility to the Iowa DNR twice in the months before the fire and also would not let an employee visit Jan. 24, agency spokeswoman Tammie Krausman confirmed.
C6-Zero may argue the 45-day deadline isn’t reasonable, Anderson said. Both sides potentially could call witnesses to testify about how long it could take to collect polluted water and soil and dispose of the waste safely.
Brand has hired Michael Kuehner, of Zenor Kuehner PLC of Des Moines, to represent him in the lawsuit, court filings show. It’s unclear whether Kuehner also represents the C6-Zero company.
David Steward, an assistant Iowa Attorney General, wrote to another Des Moines lawyer, Steve Wandro, Jan. 24 asking if Wandro was representing C6-Zero. Steward said the company’s in-house legal counsel Tim Dore named Wandro as its representative.
Steward indicated willingness to compromise with C6-Zero.
“Please know I will always make myself available to discuss this matter with you and work with you to reach an amicable resolution that protects public health and the environment,” Steward wrote. “I am communicating regularly with the DNR concerning the situation in Marengo, and I can serve as another avenue of communication between the parties as we all hopefully work together toward a common goal.”
C6-Zero did not respond to a demand letter Iowa County Emergency Management Agency Director Josh Humphrey sent Jan. 17 asking for Brand or the company to pay local first responder agencies $640,121 for equipment damaged when agencies fought the blaze Dec. 8, Humphrey said.
c6zero Demand Letter Signed (003) by Gazetteonline on Scribd
“Due to the nature of the chemicals involved, a variety of emergency response equipment and personal protective equipment has been deemed unfit to use,” Humphrey wrote Jan. 17. “All such equipment must now be replaced.”
Humphrey asked Brand to pay the bill by Feb. 1, but that didn’t happen. The demand letter warned civil action could follow and Iowa County is considering whether to proceed with a lawsuit or other action, Humphrey said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing C6-Zero’s response to a Dec. 20 request for information about the company, its processes, chemicals used, inspection reports and training documents.
“The company is claiming some of the information in the response contains confidential business information,” EPA Region 7 spokesman Kellen Ashford said in an email last week.
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