Lawsuit Over ’98 Fuel Spill Settled

Publication Date 06/22/2010
Source: Jacksonville Journal-Courier (IL)

A lawsuit over a 1998 fuel spill that caused major property contamination was resolved Monday just before the start of a bench trial to determine who should bear responsibility.

The settlement reached in the 10-year-old lawsuit was not disclosed.

The lawsuit said more than 3,652 gallons of red diesel fuel were released when a fuel line leading from a furnace to an above-ground storage tank was severed in August 1998. The accident happened while an underground telephone line was being installed at Western Asphalt at 2665 Prairie College Road in rural Jacksonville.

Western Asphalt, the company’s president, Phyllis Jean Howard, and Raymond Howard filed the lawsuit in 2000 against GTE, now known as Verizon Services and Sullivan Electric, an independent contractor doing the installation.

The Howards lease the land to Western Asphalt.

Four hours of negotiations Monday averted a bench trial scheduled to begin that day before Circuit Judge Richard Mitchell.

The lawsuit said Western Asphalt had incurred more than $200,000 in expenses as a result of the oil release, which resulting in the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issuing “notices of violations” to Sullivan and GTE.

GTE initially agreed to pay for the cleanup of the fuel. They also agreed to let Western Environmental Services, a division of Western Asphalt, conduct an investigation of the contamination and cleanup efforts.

GTE’s consent was based on the fact that Western Environmental was located on the property “and had a right to mitigate the potential damages at the site,” according to court documents.

Western Environmental Services removed 300 tons of petroleum-impacted soil from two recovery trenches in December 1998. Western Environmental also removed about 11,260 gallons of free product/contaminated water from the ground water under the property and hired a company to take the mixture to an Indiana facility for disposal, court documents said. Because of the high costs associated with disposing the mixture in that manner Western Environmental decided to treat the removed mixture onsite.

As of April 8, 1999, GTE paid $57,980 to Western Asphalt and $8,721 to a company hired to take fuel product/contaminated water to Indiana for disposal. After the telephone company stopped making payments in May 1999, the Howards and Western Asphalt filed the complaint.

Sullivan Electric Co. filed an amended counterclaim in 2003 seeking $320,796 for reimbursement of remediation and other costs it paid.

The counterclaim accused the Howards and Western Asphalt of taking advantage of the spill “to generate revenue at the expense of Sullivan Electric and Verizon.”

The counterclaim also accused Western Environmental of contributing to and increasing the spread of contamination at the site when it made several soil borings to investigate the extent of the fuel release.

“WES drilled … 10 feet below the ground water table … [creating] a pathway between the contamination and the water table and thereby contributed to the spread of the contamination,” the counterclaim contended.

Vickie Kindred was at the Morgan County Courthouse on Monday to sit in on the trial. She said she’s been following the case closely because several wells on her property have tested positive for contaminants from the oil spill. She and her husband, Bob Kindred, own 50 acres of pastureland downhill from the Howards’ property.

Kindred said she is hoping someone will address the cleanup issues involving her land since it was addressed in the initial complaint. The Kindreds were not named in the lawsuit and did not file their own suit.

“All we ever wanted was our land cleaned up,” Kindred said.

Since the Kindreds were notified of the oil spill two years after it occurred she has talked to about 45 state officials.

“I’ve watched it, followed it and encouraged it be cleaned up by the state of Illinois, primarily because they wrote the law, rules and cleanup procedures and given assurances that we would have a clean environment,” Kindred said.

Of the 3,600-plus gallons released state officials can only record 1,100 gallons that have been collected, Kindred said.

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