Ashland hotel chemical overflow lands in creek

Ashland hotel chemical overflow lands in creek

Source: Mail Tribune (Medford, OR), December 6, 2011
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A downtown Ashland hotel is under investigation for illegally discharging water containing potentially fish-killing toxics into Ashland Creek when its heating and air-conditioning system malfunctioned recently, authorities said.

The Ashland Springs Hotel’s heating and air-conditioning unit overflowed on Nov. 19, causing water treated with algae-killing chemicals to flush out of the unit, down a drain and into the street outside the hotel at 212 E. Main St., authorities said.

The water then flowed into a city storm drain that flows directly into Ashland Creek near the Main Street bridge, city officials said.

The water contains algae-killing chemicals listed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as toxic and labeled as such on the containers, Ashland police Sgt. Bob Smith said.

The white, foamy discharge was first discovered by Steve Ross, Southern Oregon University’s co-director of campus public safety, and later that day by an Ashland police officer, who traced it to the hotel, Smith said. The discharge was then stopped, Smith said.

The hotel or an individual there could face a charge of placing offensive substances in water, which is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $6,250, Assistant City Attorney Doug McGeary said Monday.

Hotel General Manager Don Anway said the there were two incidents of water flowing into the storm drain that day — once during the malfunction and later when hotel maintenance crews were cleaning up.

The system had not yet been permanently fixed to ensure no repeat of the incident, but hotel managers were looking into it, said Anway, who was out of state when the spill occurred.

Neither police nor city officials at the time contacted the state Department of Environmental Quality or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife about the spill, officials from those agencies said.

Dan VanDyke, the ODFW’s Rogue District fish biologist, said not knowing about the discharge at the time meant that no survey was done in Ashland Creek or in Bear Creek below its confluence for any environmental effects of the discharge.

Bill Meyers, the DEQ’s Rogue River Basin coordinator, said his agency was keeping an eye on the city’s response and was not planning any action as of Monday.

McGeary said he will consider charging someone or the business itself in Ashland Municipal Court and under city codes which mirror state pollution statutes. Ashland police are still investigating the case, McGeary said.

The city did a similar procedure last year when an Oregon Shakespeare Festival employee dumped latex paint into a storm drain that also flowed into Ashland Creek.

The Ashland Springs Hotel’s website touts its “green practices” that include water conservation, recycling of glass, cans and paper. It also recycles fryer oil from its kitchen, composts food scraps and uses environmentally safe cleaning supplies in its laundry, according to the website.

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