Developer owes $1.8M for cleanup

Developer owes $1.8M for cleanup

Source: http://www.rutlandherald.com, September 27, 2017
By: Gordon Dritschilo

A judge told a city developer Monday he was on the hook for $1.8 million for the cleanup of a former dry cleaning business.

John Ruggiero walked out of Rutland civil court owing the state Agency of Natural Resources triple damages in the $535,679 cleanup of the former Fillipo’s Dry Cleaners site on Woodstock Avenue, along with $180,443 in interest and $75,000 to cover the first five years of a 30-year monitoring program.

ANR will bill Ruggiero for the subsequent years, according to Assistant Attorney General Justin Kober.

The site is contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene, or PCE, a carcinogen that was once widely used in dry cleaning. The chemical has been found in concentrations thousands of times the safe level for drinking water.

Ruggiero bought the property at a tax sale in 2001. He has said he expected to be able to clean it up with funding from the state’s brownfields program, but the economy changed and the cleanup proved costlier than he expected.

Ruggiero and ANR differed over how urgently the site needed to be cleaned up, and in 2013 the Vermont Legislature approved funding for work at the site, with the provision that the agency had to try to recoup expenses from Ruggiero.

The work was done in 2014, with the state installing a barrier that decontaminates water passing through it.

Ruggiero did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday on the question: If he couldn’t pay for the clean-up to begin with, does he have the $1.8 million to pay the state?

“No,” Kober said. “We certainly don’t believe that. We do believe there will be a second proceeding to collect as much as possible.”

Kober said the judgment applies to Ruggiero personally, as well as 20 or so of the limited-liability corporations among which he has distributed his real estate holdings.

“I do understand the properties have mortgages,” he said. “There could be foreclosure actions and then payment to the creditors that are first in line.”

Ruggiero’s properties are frequently behind on their property taxes, the city has said. He is in a dispute with the state over another property — the former dress factory on Cleveland Avenue, where samples of demolition debris tested positive for asbestos in 2014.

Health Department spokesman Ben Truman said Tuesday the state had filed a complaint in Rutland civil court regarding that property, but he had no additional information.

The complaint was not yet available at the courthouse.

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