The Environmental Protection Agency is demanding that the current and former owners of the CTS of Asheville site in south Asheville pay the federal agency $6.5 million to cover costs already incurred in its efforts to deal with contaminated ground water and soils. On Sept. 13, 2011, the EPA sent identical letters to CTS Corp. and Mills Gap Road Associates, which currently owns the abandoned former plant site.
Meanwhile, the Buncombe County commissioners have postponed plans to discuss demolishing the structure at the request of Mills Gap Road Associates; the commissioners will revisit the issue at their Nov. 1 meeting. Such requests are routine, notes County Attorney Michael Frue, and in a case marked by disputes among the current and former owners, taxpayers could be on the hook for the cost of demolition. “Hopefully we can get where we need to go this way, leaving the door open for a better outcome,” says Frue.
The current and former property owners are engaged in a legal dispute concerning who is responsible for the cleanup both agreed to under a 2004 arrangement with the EPA. CTS operated an electroplating plant at the facility until 1986, when it sold the property to Mills Gap Road Associates, certifying that the property met all environmental regulations. But state records indicate that more hazardous chemicals were delivered there than were properly disposed of; meanwhile, residents say they’ve found evidence of an illegal dumping system and buried barrels of waste on the property. High levels of toxic chemicals, including TCE and vinyl chloride, have been found in nearby wells and springs since at least 1990; area residents have complained of foul odors in the air and water, as well as serious health problems including rare cancers, immune disorders and birth defects.
Earlier this year, the EPA proposed adding the site to its National Priorities List, which would place the property among the most contaminated in the nation and support remediation at taxpayer expense under the federal Superfund program. The EPA says it’s already spent $6.5 million on testing and related activities, and the September letters demand repayment plus interest, noting that some or all of those costs may be covered by the company’s insurance. “In the event that your company files for protection in a bankruptcy court, it must include EPA as a creditor,” the letter states. The Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS showed a profit of more than $552 million last year, according to a report in Businessweek.
The EPA letters launched a 60-day moratorium on the agency’s remedial investigation and feasibility studies addressing the contaminated site, and offers CTS an opportunity to make a “good faith effort” to conduct a list of outlined actions, including developing detailed work plans for cleanup and providing proof of the company’s ability to finance a full remediation.