After 20 years of repeated environmental citations, the Ashberry Landfill in rural Opp, Alabama, was finally issued a civil penalty of $151,950 as part of a proposed Dec. 15 consent order issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).
ADEM officials appeared to clamp down on Ashberry in February, after years of citations but no fines, after a landfill outside Birmingham caught fire and burned underground for months, putting ADEM in the spotlight and led many community leaders to question how such a disaster could have gone underground. should happen.
But within weeks of that apparent enforcement crackdown, ADEM conditionally approved a plan to allow operations at Ashberry to continue, taking 10 more months to finally fine the landfill for not following this month. However, the agency chose to discount the fine by more than $30,000 in the spirit of cooperation.
M. Lynn Battle, a spokesperson for ADEM, said in a statement that the department order includes a corrective action plan with a strict timeline to remediate the environmental impact of the violations.
Ty Ashberry, the owner of the landfill, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
A History of Violations
Ashberry Landfill was first granted a solid waste disposal permit in May 2003, according to state records. In the decades that followed, the landfill repeatedly violated state environmental regulations, promising to eventually comply while ADEM regulators did little to force the issues to be resolved.
ADEM issued its first notice of violation to the Ashberry Landfill in July 2005 outlining its failure to comply with three state environmental regulations related to the maintenance of solid waste sites.
Just three months later, the agency issued another violation notice, this time outlining the failure to comply with five regulations. Among the noted violations was the use of the landfill for unauthorized household waste and other waste, including car fuel tanks, state documents.
No violation notices from 2005 resulted in a fine for the facility.
In 2010, state officials granted the facility an additional permit to process scrap tires. In the past four years, the facility has violated environmental regulations 13 times, all without fines or administrative orders against it.
After becoming an authorized tire processor, the facility again violated environmental regulations in 2013 and 2019, with both incidents leading to a warning letter from ADEM without assessing even what payment.
At least one resident complained to ADEM officials in 2019 that conditions in Ashberry were deteriorating.
There are mountains of uncovered tires in the facility, a complaint records. The mosquito issue is so bad that residents have to stay indoors.
In response, Ashberry simply told state regulators that the site is chemically fogged at least once a week during the warmer months.
In April 2021, the agency again cited the facility, this time for six violations, and noted the need to be more careful because of recent fires.
As detailed above, during the inspection, a large accumulation of tires was found in the facility, an ADEM compliance chief wrote to Ashberry, the owner of the facility. Due to recent fires at other permitted landfills and the size of the tire accumulation, the Department is warning Ashberry Landfill, LLC that care must be taken in managing the tire accumulation to prevent fire, including proper use of cover material.
Again, the agency chose not to fine the Ashberry Landfill.
Less than two weeks ago, ADEM issued the landfill a sixth notice of violation, citing three violations of state law. A month later, the Ashberry Landfill was cited for three more violations. No fines were assessed at any time.
State law requires landfill facilities like Ashberry to cover materials such as tires to reduce the risk of fire and to eliminate standing water that can allow breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests. pest
In February 2022, ADEM issued its first administrative order against the facility, citing 11 separate violations of state environmental law. However, the agency chose not to fine Ashberry.
By May, ADEM received an additional complaint from a resident near the landfill.
There were tires piled up almost as high as trees, the plaintiff wrote. Mosquitoes are so bad that you can’t go outside. My family owns the land, and I can’t take my girls there because of the mosquitoes. My nieces and nephews are getting smaller, although they don’t get out of the mosquitoes too bad. We complained to people and NOTHING was done.
ADEM inspectors visited the facility in the weeks following the complaint. While officials wrote that they found no mosquito larvae or swarming mosquitoes during the follow-up inspection, ADEM cited the landfill for four other violations of state environmental regulations.
When the Fire Started
Then, in late November 2022, everything changed, because a fire started underground at the Environmental Landfill northeast of Birmingham.
During the months that followed, the underground fire covered several acres near Moody, its burning material reaching more than 150 feet deep.
The fire and resulting smoke left residents suffering health effects and schools limited outdoor activity. All the while, state and local officials are pointing fingers at who should be responsible for putting out the fire. It was only after federal officials entered that the fire was extinguished and contained.
After the fire, ADEM officials took the first aggressive action to compel compliance with Ashberry on February 1, 2023. Issuing an order to close the landfill.
This Order requires the Ashberry Landfill and Tire Recycling Facility to cease and desist operations as a solid waste disposal facility until written approval is received from the Department, officials wrote in a document, citing more than a dozen which are additional violations.
For the first time, operations at Ashberry Landfills will be halted at least temporarily in violation of state law.
It won’t last.
By Feb. 14, state regulators have conditionally approved a compliance action plan for the site, allowing operations to continue with the expectation that the facility will comply with state law by June 1, 2023.
That didn’t happen.
Two months after the expected compliance date, ADEM inspectors visited the site and determined that the Ashberry Landfill was still in violation of environmental code. During one visit, Ashberry’s owner told inspectors he hoped to sell the facility. Any future owner would also have to comply with state law, regulators warned Ashberry, according to state records.
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As it turned out, the fire at the XX landfill resurfaced in October, nearly a year after the fire first broke out, leading EPA officials to put boots on the ground in Birmingham once again.
Back in Ashberry, the state finally slapped the landfill owner with a proposed fine earlier this month after 20 years of operation and repeated citations for environmental violations.
As part of the proposed consent decree, Ashberry would neither admit nor deny the department’s contentions of repeated violations but agreed to pay an estimated fine of $121,950, including the discount.
The order requires biweekly reports that ADEM will use to review and track progress. Written by Battle. Also, to allow concentration of compliance, the order requires the facility to stop accepting tires in February of 2024.
ADEM requested that comments on the proposed order, including any requests for a public hearing, be submitted by Monday, January 15.
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