Winging it

Mountain Xpress reported back in June on local wildlife-rehabilitation expert Sherry Johnson’s trip to the Gulf Coast to help clean up oiled birds and other wildlife directly impacted by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster (see “Hands Across the Sand,” June 23 Xpress). But when Johnson and her husband tried to deliver the veterinary supplies donated by the Asheville community, they were initially turned away at the International Bird Rescue Research Center facility in Hammond, La.

According to Johnson, Rhonda Murgatroyd of Wildlife Response Services “told me point blank, ‘We are not accepting donations, and BP is paying for everything.’” Hired by BP to lead the wildlife-rescue effort, Wildlife Response — a subsidiary of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based O’Brien Financial Group — is mishandling the wildlife cleanup they’re supposed to be leading, Johnson maintains. Meanwhile, rescue workers in the area have told Johnson they’re short on supplies of IV fluids, nitrile gloves, syringes, needles and other items. “But the people in control don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “They can’t have eyes everywhere — they’re working in three states.”

“We had authorization before we left from Tri-State Bird Rescue,” the lead group cleaning up oiled wildlife in the gulf, Johnson reports. “It got a little ugly there when we first arrived, but we got [the delivery] done in the end.” International Bird Rescue Research, which has been doing rescue work in the gulf for years, eventually accepted the supplies.

In an e-mail, Murgatroyd denied that there are shortages and confirmed that BP is not accepting donations but did not explain the policy.

Among other functions, the command center offers a toll-free hot line for reporting injured wildlife. Callers hear the following recorded message: “To report oiled sea turtles or dolphins in any state, press 1. To report oiled birds in Texas, press 2. To report oiled birds or other wildlife in Alabama or Florida, press 3…”

CTS files lawsuit over cleanup costs

The saga of the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site has taken another bizarre twist: On July 28, the Elkhardt, Ind.-based CTS Corp. filed a breach-of-contract suit against Mills Gap Road Associates.

The suit alleges that the local partnership has failed to honor an agreement to share cleanup costs per a 2004 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seeking “damages … no less than $847,000,” CTS further maintains that the partnership is responsible for all of the corporation’s future costs in assessing and cleaning up the property, where massive levels of trichloroethylene and other contaminants have been found. Neighboring residents have complained about numerous health problems they blame on their exposure to those chemicals through their drinking-water wells and springs.

The lawsuit names Mills Gap Road Associates partners Frederick Slosman, John Powell and Stanley Greenberg. The partnership bought the bulk of the 57-acre property not long after the plant shut down in 1986 and then sold all but 10 acres to Southside Village developer Richard Green. The remaining acreage has stood at the heart of residents’ decades-long struggle to get the contamination cleaned up (see “Fail-safe?” July 11, 2007 Xpress).

Appeals court rejects Asheville judge’s verdict in TVA case

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg of Asheville, who’d ruled that four Tennessee Valley Authority power plants are a “public nuisance” because of their negative effect on air quality in Western North Carolina.

Thornburg had ordered the utility to accelerate planned improvements at the plants, which the utility said would cost an additional $1 billion. But it was the ruling's impact on utility regulation, rather than the cost, that prompted the higher court to reverse it.

“If allowed to stand, the injunction would encourage courts to use vague public nuisance standards to scuttle the nation's carefully created system for accommodating the need for energy production and the need for clean air,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote. “The result would be a balkanization of clean air regulations and a confused patchwork of standards, to the detriment of industry and the environment alike.”

Although the state tried to frame the case in terms of protecting public health and the environment, Wilkinson argued that the federal Clean Air Act already addresses those issues.

Environmental groups and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper called the ruling a setback for clean air. The attorney general sued TVA in 2006 after the North Carolina Legislature required plants in this state to reduce their own air emissions.

Direct your environmental news to Susan Andrew: 251-1333, ext. 153, or sandrew@mountainx.com.

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