Special Agent Eric Martenson of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division visited Douglas County on July 10 and asked questions about an incident involving Douglas County Landfill leachate, according to several local officials and a property owner adjacent to the landfill.

During his visit, Martenson visited Douglas County government officials, the Green Sanitary District and the Douglas County Landfill and sought information about an April 26 incident in which landfill leachate with high levels of ammonia virtually wiped out the good bacteria, or “bugs,” that treat wastewater at the Winston-Green Wastewater Treatment Plant.

However, Martenson’s supervisor Ted Owens, assistant special agent in charge for the Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska region, said the EPA Criminal Investigation Division cannot comment on whether or not a specific investigation is taking place. Speaking generally about the agency’s mission, Owens said the criminal division is tasked with investigating knowing or negligent violations of environmental laws. If it finds sufficient evidence of criminal action, it passes that information on to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

Winston-Green Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Chris Sherlock said Martenson visited Green Sanitary on July 10, and his questions were specific to the April 26 incident.

“His focus was on possible criminal investigation regarding the leachate brought to us on April 26th. His questions indicated he was investigating the incident and not a specific person or entity at the time I talked to him,” Sherlock said.

Victor Petrucci, who owns a parcel of land adjacent to the county landfill, said Martenson also visited his property and took pictures of the landfill.

Petrucci has been in a long-running battle with the county over his own allegations that landfill leachate has been leaking out, polluting a creek that runs through his land and pours into the South Umpqua River a short distance from his property.

County officials admitted that happened once in 2017 when a pump failed during heavy rains, but said it was an isolated incident. The county had in the past collected leachate in a series of treatment ponds, which overflowed during heavy rains, but currently pumps leachate into a large holding tank.

Petrucci continues to maintain that pollution from the landfill leachate is making its way to the river.

“It’s terrible what’s in that stuff and they’re putting that in the river where people swim and eat fish and there’s kids that go down there,” Petrucci said.

Petrucci’s conflict with the county has resulted in some legal battles. He pleaded guilty to burglary in 2018 after he damaged an air conditioning unit at a county building while placing audio devices there. He performed community service in Winston, where he is a member of the Winston Planning Commission. A trespassing charge was also brought against him, but was dismissed.

Martenson’s visit here appears to have been a response to a June 7 letter from Petrucci’s attorney, Ted A. Martin of Portland. The letter was addressed to Douglas County Counsel Paul Meyer, but copies were sent to multiple federal and state officials.

In it, Martin took the county to task.

“How can the County take the position — as it did in Mr. Petrucci’s recent Burglary prosecution — that the leachate waste effluent is safe AND that it is hazardous — as it did at the public meeting?” Martin wrote.

The public meeting in question was between Winston City Council and Green Sanitary District at the end of May. Winston and Green Sanitary are co-owners of the treatment plant.

In a recording of that meeting, Winston-Green officials can be heard expressing concern about a potential lawsuit from Petrucci, and one woman can be heard saying she thought Petrucci was right.

The Winston-Green officials at that meeting asked county government officials to prepare a “hold harmless” clause that would ensure the county would cover any costs related to future landfill leachate problems.

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said he also met with Martenson, the EPA investigator. However, Boice said Martenson told him he felt his visit had been a waste of time.

“What he said was that he’s really not that interested in chasing fairy tales and unicorns, and that’s what he felt like this is,” Boice said.

Boice said he believes that’s the end of any investigation.

Boice said leachate testing is done both internally by county staff and externally by independent labs. The frequency of the tests varies depending on the results of previous tests and ranges from daily to weekly, he said.

County Public Works Director Scott Adams has previously explained the high-ammonia leachate problem at the end of April was caused by wells being drilled by the Stellar J company, which collects methane from the landfill to convert into electricity.

Sherlock, the Winston-Green plant superintendent, said the county has been hauling its leachate to the plant for 10 years without problems, and the two organizations have worked together to effectively treat the leachate.

“There has been no reason to believe that the county has been anything but honest and above-board to us throughout our working relationship,” Sherlock said.

While Winston and Green obtain their drinking water higher upstream than the treatment plant, Elkton is several miles downstream. So far, City Manager Gary Trout said they’ve seen no problems. If increased pollution from the die-off of the Winston-Green bugs had reached them, it would likely have led to an increase in algae, he said, but that hasn’t happened.

Trout said annual tests are performed for volatile organic chemicals and nitrates, and haven’t indicated problems in the past. The next testing is coming up next month, he said.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(2) comments

S

. . . eventually a skeleton will fall out of Douglas County's closet and not get stuffed back in without consequences. It is not if, but when.

Amcconne

But, you know, there is “nothing to see here” 😂

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