ADEM seeks federal help to clean Miss. senator’s Bessemer plant

Published 5:14 pm Friday, November 30, 2007

ADEM seeks federal help to clean Miss. senator’s Bessemer plant

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A Mississippi state senator has not followed through on agreements to clean up an oil plant he owned in Bessemer and has abandoned the property, according to officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

However, state Sen. Jack Gordon, D-Okolona, said Thursday that problems at the Bessemer Petroleum Co. site were taken care of last year and the matter is old news.

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“We hired a company and we feel like we’re in compliance over there,” Gordon said when reached through his Capitol office. “We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do.”

Alabama environmental officials sued Gordon in Nov. 2006, asking the court to enforce a 2000 consent order they say went unfulfilled. Gordon did not respond to the complaint, so the circuit court entered a default judgment against Bessemer Petroleum in February.

ADEM director Trey Glenn sent the Environmental Protection Agency a Nov. 19 letter asking that it take jurisdiction over the case and “compel Mr. Gordon to clean-close Bessemer Petroleum’s Bessemer, Alabama facility in a manner consistent with all applicable regulations.”

Glenn’s letter to the EPA was first reported by The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

Lawyers for the Alabama environmental agency say it would be easier for the government to force Gordon to comply with the consent order because of various interstate issues, including that none of ADEM’s attorneys are licensed in Mississippi.

They also want Gordon to clean up or close three other Alabama facilities — two more in Bessemer and one in Thorsby — saying the underground tanks need to be removed if the plants are not in operation.

Kim Gordon-Brown, who is familiar with her father’s enterprises, said they met with EPA representatives last year and all they requested was that some empty drums be removed from the property. “We’ve heard nothing since then,” she said.

The consent order to remove hazards was signed in 2000, she said, and the plant was closed in 2004.

Gordon-Brown said neither she, her father nor the EPA had received the letter from ADEM as of Thursday and news of ADEM’s request for federal assistance was a surprise.

“I picked up the paper this morning and read the paper and was like, ‘Wow’,” she said.

ADEM’s 2006 lawsuit said inspectors saw an oily discharge running into storm drains and there were violations of the department’s underground storage tank and stormwater regulations.

George Malvaney, a regional manager for United States Environmental Services, L.L.C., said his company was hired by Gordon last fall to address problems with above- and below-ground storage tanks and an oil and water separator machine at the plant.

All of the underground tanks were emptied of gas and diesel fuel and only two of 37 tanks above ground at the site contain a type of lubricating oil, he said, adding that those are in a secondary container and “do not represent an environmental hazard.”

Malvaney said the 35 other tanks appear to have residue from different oils, but none were seen leaking when crews from the Jackson, Mississippi-based company checked the plant Thursday after the newspaper report.

“We certainly do not see any type of immediate threat whatsoever in that facility. We are going to be working with ADEM to further address any concerns,” he said.

“We have not seen anything (amiss),” Malvaney said. “We just wanted to ensure that nothing had changed since the last time we checked.”