Waste disposal to be reopened near De Beque

The Black Mountain solid-waste disposal facility, maligned for an environmental spill that went unreported and unchecked for years under owners who repeatedly failed to comply with government mandates, has been granted new life under new ownership.

Mesa County commissioners voted 2-0 Thursday to allow the facility near De Beque to reopen on a limited basis, claiming that although the company that treats and disposes of oil and gas wastewater has yet to fully comply with a state order to document the contamination, it has made significant strides despite being closed for the past two years. Commissioner Steve Acquafresca was absent from the meeting.

Commissioner Craig Meis said the only way for Black Mountain to begin tackling the 9-year-old spill is if the facility can open, start processing the tens of thousands of barrels of produced water expected to roll through and generate revenue to pay for the work that needs to be done.

“I don’t see a positive outcome to not taking advantage of (Black Mountain Recycling owner Jefferson) Been’s willingness to work with the county,” Meis said. “We have to give them the opportunity to open and create revenue before we set them up for failure.”

Been called the commissioners’ decision “good news.”

“It shows we continue to cooperate with the county,” he said after a more than three-hour hearing marked by sharply contrasting viewpoints between state officials and Meis and fellow Commissioner Janet Rowland.

While encouraging Black Mountain to restart its operations, commissioners set a few conditions and limitations:

Before it opens, Been and his wife, Brenda, must deposit $28,370 into a state-held trust fund that will help pay for site cleanup if Black Mountain is unable to do the work itself. That fund contains $147,000.

Once the facility opens, it will be limited to using one of the five evaporation ponds. The other four must be relined before they can receive waste.

County planners will conduct an administrative review within 90 days of the reopening to ensure Black Mountain is progressing in its effort to identify the nature and extent of the spill.

The commission’s decision contradicted a recommendation from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office that the facility remain closed. Assistant Attorney General Nicole Abbott, who participated in a conference call with Charles Johnson, solid-waste unit manager with the state Department of Public Health and Environment, told commissioners that Black Mountain will break state law if it reopens.

Black Mountain Recycling is in violation of a state solid-waste-compliance order, prompting the state to file a lawsuit against the company. The state also has a lawsuit pending against Black Mountain Disposal, the name under which the facility previously operated, for the original groundwater contamination. The lawsuits are scheduled to go to trial in April.

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.

A year later, commissioners agreed to allow the facility to reopen on a limited basis subject to county conditions and a state compliance order. Been bought the facility from then-owners Jeff and Elaine Pratt in October 2009.

In opposing the reopening of the facility, state officials cite the fact the Beens have yet to fully document the contamination, even though the deadline to do so passed eight months ago. Abbott said the state didn’t negotiate the compliance order to have the deadlines be “a mere formality.”

Abbott also expressed concern about Black Mountain possessing the financial wherewithal to account for and clean up the spill.

She pointed out that the county foreclosed on the Beens’ Grand Junction house last fall and that an environmental consulting firm hired by Black Mountain to help with the cleanup is owed more than $36,000 by the company for its work. She noted that an employee with the environmental consultant had planned to invest in Black Mountain but later backed out.

“They haven’t established the financial ability to meet the regulations,” Abbott said of Black Mountain.

But Black Mountain officials argued they can’t comply with the state order without opening the facility and generating revenue. And they contended that actions taken by the state’s Air Quality Control Division prevented the facility from opening sooner.

Before he purchased the facility, Been said, state air-quality officials told him he needed to reduce the emission of elevated levels of volatile organic compounds at the facility, but he could work on that after opening the facility. After the purchase, the state reversed course and instructed him to purchase and install equipment prior to opening, keeping him from meeting the state’s compliance deadlines, he said.

Even without being able to open the facility, Been said he took steps to address the groundwater contamination. He said he drilled test wells that showed levels of benzene that exceed state standards. He also deposited $10,000 into the state-held trust fund.

Been told commissioners he spent more than $200,000 and incurred $150,000 in debt trying to bring the business into compliance.

Near the end of the hearing, Rowland criticized the fact that one arm of the state was trying to hold Black Mountain to a series of deadlines while another arm was imposing requirements preventing it from meeting those deadlines.

“It appears to me Black Mountain has been caught in a bureaucratic nightmare,” she said.


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