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EPA files suit against three Oronogo residents over property access

ORONOGO, Mo. – The Environmental Protection Agency has filed a suit against three Oronogo residents.

According to court documents, the three defendants named in the suit have denied the EPA access to their properties for testing and remediation. The suit names Ronald and Patricia West as well as Randy Pendergraft.

The suit involves a series of properties in Oronogo owned by the Wests, and one property owned by Pendergraft. The properties are part of the Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt Superfund site, which is contaminated with lead waste. According to the suit, the EPA has attempted to gain access to the properties to do soil testing and ultimately, clean up of the contaminated land. The EPA alleges that the Wests and Pendergraft have repeatedly denied them access to the properties to do so.

We spoke with Ronald West, who declined to go on camera. He told us he and his mother, Patricia, were approached by the EPA in 2016 about access to their properties. However, West tells us when he looked at the paperwork from the EPA, he says it listed him as a grantor, and he became concerned about losing property rights, if he signed those documents allowing the EPA on site.

West says he was very careful to never tell the EPA “no”, and instead began work on a contract with the EPA for the work. However, West tells us not long after, the EPA simply stopped communicating, until he learned of this suit.

We reached out to the attorney in the case for the EPA and received a statement from a Department of Justice spokesperson. In it, they tell us in part that they recently completed cleanup of mining wastes on the neighboring properties and that “EPA was unable to clean up mining waste on the defendants’ properties because the defendants refused to grant EPA access.”

“The refusal to grant access is allowing the wastes from defendants’ property to re-contaminate a downstream owner’s recently-cleaned property, which is increasing the total cost of the cleanup.”

The EPA says they’re not seeking any costs of cleaning up form the defendants, they’re simply wanting access to the site. We attempted to speak with Randy Pendergraft but were unable to contact him.

West tells us he is in contact with an attorney, but no official representation has been listed yet and West wanted to emphasize to us he never told the EPA they couldn’t gain access to his property, he simply wanted a contract with them.

The Documents

We’ve included the documents filed with the court by the EPA

EPA vs Oronogo Residents

The DOJ Statement

Below is the full statement from the Department of Justice spokesperson.

This is a case brought on behalf of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to obtain an order allowing EPA access to the defendants’ properties so that EPA can clean up mining wastes on the properties.  EPA’s cleanup of the defendants’ properties is part of a larger cleanup of mining wastes that EPA is conducting under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).  The defendants’ properties are part of the Oronogo/Duenweg Mining Belt Superfund Site, a large Superfund site that is contaminated with mining waste.  The mining waste has high levels of lead, cadmium, and zinc, which are hazardous to human health and the environment.

EPA recently completed cleanup of mining wastes on all of the properties owned by others in the vicinity of the defendants’ properties.  EPA was unable to clean up mining waste on the defendants’ properties because the defendants refused to grant EPA access.  This refusal to grant access is allowing the wastes from defendants’ property to re-contaminate a downstream owner’s recently-cleaned property, which is increasing the total cost of the cleanup.  The lawsuit seeks an Order in Aid of Access, providing EPA and its representatives with access to the properties so that EPA can sample, test, and clean up hazardous mining waste on the defendants’ properties.  The quantity of mining wastes on the defendants’ properties is approximately 150,000 tons.

The United States’ complaint does not seek from defendants any costs of cleaning up the mining wastes on defendants’ properties.  Similarly, EPA did not seek cleanup costs from other property owners in the vicinity when EPA cleaned up mining wastes on those properties.

 

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