A civil case five years in the making may be a month away from resolution, but cleanup from 60 or more years of asbestos mining likely remains a long way off.
The Vermont Asbestos Group has reached an agreement with the state attorney general and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding liability for the company’s 1,540-acre site on Belvidere Mountain in Eden and Lowell. The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposed settlement.
VAG mined chrysotile or “white” asbestos from open pits between 1975 and 1993. The site was previously mined by G-1 Holdings, Inc., and other companies. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources began investigating contamination in 2005, and a civil suit was lodged in 2008.
According to information on the agency’s website, about 30 million tons of hazardous waste rock and mine tailings remain in two piles at the site. Despite some removal efforts since 2007 and placement of “corrective structures,” such as deposit basins, water bars, diversion trenches and berms to minimize runoff, the piles continue to erode, threatening the local watershed and public health.
As of July 2011, full environmental remediation had been estimated to cost between $135 million and $207 million, according to a mine expert hired by the U.S. Department of Justice. An initial estimate by a consultant for VAG priced remediation as high as $500 million. The former owner, G-1 Holdings, estimated $70 million — a figure dismissed as ineffective by the state. Court documents indicate that, based on current information, the state anticipates at least $28 million in future costs.
VAG has agreed to perform site maintenance for 10 years and accept federal and state liens on the property — in amounts of $3.4 million and $28.5 million, respectively. Additionally, VAG president Howard Manosh has agreed to $5,000 annual cash payments to the state for 10 years. The remaining financial obligation involves insurance claims. The consent decree requires VAG to “use ‘best efforts’ to obtain any available monetary indemnification or recovery from all applicable Insurance Policies.” The money would be split between the state and EPA.
Seven insurance policies are identified in the consent decree for potential payouts. Their coverage periods span October 1975 through March 1979. Part of the agreement, according to Assistant Attorney General Thea Schwartz, is to identify additional insurance policies whose claims could help the government recover its past and future costs.
The settlement agreement is based on acknowledgement that the defendant, VAG, is financially unable to compensate the state and EPA for their costs of cleaning up the site. If the settlement is approved, the parties will avoid litigation.
The efforts represent the latest “layer” in ongoing cost recovery, Schwartz said. It follows an earlier settlement with G-1, which filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
A 30-day public comment period on the VAG settlement opens Monday, Schwartz said. The agreement will be posted at a U.S. Department of Justice website for proposed consent decrees. Instructions for public comment will be posted in a “Federal Register Notice” alongside the decree and the original complaint from which it stemmed.