Salt of the earth

State charges waste disposal facility for contaminated ground

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At a glance

• Moffat County District Court found Elk Springs Recycle and Recovery - located about 50 miles west of Craig - in violation of overfilling contaminated water pits with brine water in October 2007.

• Brine is extremely salty, and can ruin water supplies, but officials do not believe public drinking water has been compromised.

• The Department of Public Health and Environment alleges the facility still is releasing contaminated water through leaks in the bottom of water pits. A court case is planned for April 8 and 9.

• The Department of Public Health will seek mandatory improvements to the facility and monetary fines at a hearing in April.

• The Moffat County Commission plans to hold a public hearing on whether to suspend, revoke or alter the facility's certificate of designation May 21.

— The Moffat County District Court plans to hear a case in early April filed by the state Attorney General's Office alleging a local solid-waste recycling facility improperly managed its water disposal units.

Department of Public Health and Environment research claims that contaminated water pits at Elk Springs Recycle and Recovery - located about 50 miles west of Craig - were not adequately insulated, resulting in ground contamination.

Court dates are set for April 8 and 9.

The recycling facility, owned by Moffat County resident Phil Bethell, takes in excess brine water from oil and gas fields.

Bethell could not be reached for comment.

Brine water contains high levels of salt and small amounts of oil and gas chemicals, said Joe Schieffelin, Department of Public Health program manager for the Solid and Hazardous Waste Program.

The chemicals are not considered noxious to people, but the salt amount can permanently ruin water supplies, Schieffelin added.

Officials do not believe contamination is widespread, being mostly limited to surrounding areas, Schieffelin said. However, the nearby Elk Springs draw - a runoff creek - is not clearing away salt levels, leading officials to believe contamination is constant and likely the result of seepage through the bottom of water pits.

Officials do not suspect public drinking water, either in regional or state rivers, has been compromised.

"I'm almost dead positive it has not gotten anywhere near that far," Schieffelin said.

Bethell appeared at a preliminary injunction in October 2007 for charges relating to other contaminating practices.

The court found he overfilled water ponds with contaminated water, which subsequently ran over and contaminated a neighbor's property, Schieffelin said.

At the October hearing, the court ordered Bethell to comply with four stipulations, including that he maintains 2 feet of clearance on top of his ponds to prevent overflow.

The Department of Public Health believes Bethell has complied with three of the four stipulations, but has not prevented brine release.

"We believe there are still ongoing releases," Schieffelin said. "We plan to ask the judge to force him to upgrade his facility to prevent that leakage by installing man-made buffers in his ponds."

State officials also plan to recommend the court assess fines for Bethell's overtopping, one for failing to manage his facility and one for contaminating the state's water supply, Schieffelin said.

The Moffat County Commission plans to hold a public hearing regarding the facility's certificate of designation May 21. County officials hold sole authority over suspension, revocation or additional operating conditions for the facility, County Attorney Kathleen Taylor said.

The Commission will protect the public at large, but is not out to close someone's business, Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.

"We don't want to get to that point," Tayyara said. "Our mission is to protect the public and make sure (Bethell) follows the law."

Comments

oldsage 6 years, 8 months ago

This guy is already on probation because of the fraud charges he had a few years back for fabricating and falsifying testing results which were supposed to be done and were not for that facility and now he pulls this stuff. Maybe this time they will lock him up and fine him so he will obey the law. Obviously the fine he paid last time was not enough. His attitude is that polluting the ground water in Elk Springs is ok because he lives 30 miles away. If there never was a reason or need for the EPA and laws to prevent the destruction of the environment, Phil Bethell and his actions demonstrate the need all by himself!

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