Waste facility owners face suit
A De Beque-area oil and gas waste-disposal business that has been blistered for a yet-to-be-remedied environmental spill is under the microscope again, as the current owner has defaulted on payments to the previous owners and faces allegations of fresh wastewater contamination.
Mesa County District Judge David Bottger last week granted receivership of Black Mountain Recycling to John Watt Jr., a consultant to the facility’s former owners, Elaine Wells and Jeff Pratt, who operated the business as Black Mountain Disposal. The judge’s Sept. 14 ruling came one day after Black Mountain Disposal filed a lawsuit alleging Black Mountain Recycling owner Jefferson Been failed to pay nearly $1.5 million in promissory notes held by Black Mountain Disposal, Wells and Pratt.
The lawsuit includes a report filed by Watt indicating an on-site inspection he performed last month revealed new wastewater contamination from a forced evaporation process and air quality-monitoring equipment.
“It is quite apparent that the management of this site and facility has absolutely no understanding or knowledge in relation to environmental contamination, or they are operating the site with complete and utter disregard for environmental contamination and the consequences of these actions,” Watt wrote in the report.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Been adamantly denied Watt’s claims.
The legal action, combined with what could be another change in ownership, marks the latest turn for a facility that has been in and out of trouble with the county and state over the last several years.
County commissioners suspended the facility’s conditional-use permit and certificate of designation and closed the 45-acre site south of De Beque in 2008 after Black Mountain Disposal failed to report and clean up a 2001 spill and accepted more waste than its permit allowed. Been bought the facility from Pratt and Wells in October 2009.
The lawsuit alleges Been failed to make payments to Black Mountain Disposal, Pratt and Wells on five notes that were due last year. Black Mountain Disposal initiated a foreclosure for the default on one of the notes.
Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland last year agreed to allow Black Mountain Recycling to reopen on a limited basis, a decision that contradicted a recommendation from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that the facility remain closed. State officials had argued the business was in violation of a state solid-waste-compliance order and questioned whether Been had the financial resources to account for and clean up the 2001 spill.
At the time, the state also had a lawsuit pending against both Black Mountain Disposal and Black Mountain Recycling. That legal action was settled in March. Among other requirements, the settlement called for Black Mountain Recycling to pay a $53,000 penalty, $14,000 of which represented the penalty sought by the state against Black Mountain Disposal.
When Been received approval from the county to reopen last October, he vowed to work with neighbors, the county and the state and said new ownership should have eased any concerns about the business. But Watt’s report, generated from an Aug. 19 inspection allowed as part of the purchase agreement between Black Mountain Disposal and Black Mountain Recycling, asserts problems persist at the facility on 45 1/2 Road.
Watt wrote in the report that in an effort to evaporate oil and gas production water, Black Mountain Recycling is inappropriately spraying the fluid across the facility’s site and onto neighboring private property. He wrote the over-spray conditions “are of serious environmental and health concerns” and could lead to groundwater contamination.
Watt wrote he also observed production water leaking from air-quality-monitoring equipment at the rate of at least a gallon a minute. He indicated it appeared there was no pit lining the area surrounding the equipment, leaving him to conclude the water was percolating down through the soil into the groundwater.
Watt wrote that he attempted to ask Been a series of questions during his visit, but Been ignored him.
Watt returned to the business Tuesday to serve civil papers related to the receivership and allegedly was assaulted by Been’s son, 24-year-old Jefferson Been Jr.
Been Jr. was issued a summons on suspicion of third-degree assault and obstruction of a telephone.
Been denied that there is any new contamination at the business.
“The Black Mountain Recycling disposal facility has been inspected by the state and the county numerous times,” he said. “Everything has been in compliance. There’s no spillage. There’s no contamination. Everything was operating fine.”
Been declined to comment on the lawsuit, the default on the promissory notes and the appointment of a receiver, referring questions to his attorney, Scott Clark of Greenwood Village. Clark did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Charles Johnson, solid-waste unit manager with the state Department of Public Health and Environment, said an inspector visited Black Mountain Recycling on Aug. 30 after some anonymous citizens complained about odor and vapor clouds at the facility. He said the inspector’s report is under an internal review as part of an inspection-review process and a possible enforcement action. He declined to comment further.
Meis said he was unaware of the ownership battle over Black Mountain until he was contacted by a reporter Wednesday. He noted, though, he would have “serious concerns” if Wells and Pratt attempted to regain ownership of the business, pointing out it was the current board of commissioners that shut down the facility to begin with.
“Based upon how the previous ownership operated the facility, I certainly have some reservations going forward with them,” Meis said.
Black Mountain Recycling, which is allowed to use only one of five evaporation ponds at the facility, is scheduled to go before the county Planning Commission next month with an application to line the four other ponds and add a sixth pond.