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For immediate release – Thursday, August 28, 2008
Contact Bob Brammer – 515-281-6699

Northwest Iowa Judge orders $88,000 Environmental Penalty

State lawsuit alleged violation of air quality, storm water, and solid waste laws at appliance “de-manufacturing” facility in Lyon County.

Lyon County District Court Judge Jeffrey A. Neary has ordered Harold and Sharon DeVos to pay a total of $88,000 in civil penalties for environmental violations in connection with their appliance “de-manufacturing” facility located in the unincorporated town of Edna, near Rock Rapids in northwest Iowa.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit last year alleging violations by the DeVoses, including failure to clean up illegally dumped solid waste, open burning of solid waste, de-manufacturing of appliances without a permit, failure to obtain a storm water discharge permit, and other violations.

“Judge Neary issued a thoughtful and appropriate ruling,” said Attorney General Tom Miller.  “It underscores the importance of following the rules in order to protect the environment and protect people.” [Go to Judge Neary’s ruling.]

The “violation of most concern,” Judge Neary said, “involves the handling and disposal of appliances such that refrigerant lines and capacitors were damaged, cut, or broken.  The destruction of these parts and lines resulted in the release of mercury and PCBs into the environment and threatens the health, safety and welfare of the people of Iowa,” he wrote.

Neary calculated that over $7 million in penalties could have been assessed.  He noted that the DeVoses had failed to heed an administrative order issued by the Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources in June 2006 and “blatantly violated” an injunction issued by another judge on September 24, 2007.  “The Court finds that there is no sanction, short of a severe one, which will deter the Defendants’ conduct,” he said in imposing the civil penalties totaling $88,000.  Neary also prohibited any further violations.

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More background and detail:

            Appliance “de-manufacturers” ordinarily are paid for taking used appliances and properly disposing of the various components.  They also ordinarily are paid for the value of scrap metal resulting from the de-manufacture.  Proper de-manufacturing requires licenses, registration of a proposed site with the U.S. EPA, written plans for a site, a state storm water permit, financial assurances, inspections, and other requirements.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit was filed January 23, 2007.  [Go to news release, including link to lawsuit.] The lawsuit was filed after the DeVoses failed to comply with a DNR Administrative Order issued June 7, 2006, ordering cleanup of the site and prohibiting further violations.  On September 24, 2007, Judge Nancy Whittenburg granted the State’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and required Harold and Sharon DeVos again to clean up the site and abide by environmental regulations. 

On May 22, 2008, Judge Neary conducted a trial to determine penalties.  Judge Neary’s “Post-Trial Ruling on Civil Penalties” was filed August 14, 2008.  (The Attorney General received a copy of the ruling from the clerk of court on August 25.)

In his ruling, Neary described an incident that he said weighed in his decision, recounting that when DNR agents visited the DeVos property on May 20, 2008, to take pictures for evidence, Mr. DeVos went into his home and returned carrying a rifle.  “These actions clearly were intended to discourage the DNR from fulfilling their investigative duties,” Neary wrote.

Neary’s ruling discussed potential penalties in detail, then ordered penalties totaling $88,000, as follows:  $10,000 for continuous violations of waste water regulations; $20,000 for willful violations of air quality regulations; $13,000 for cost of compliance savings realized by the Defendants; and $45,000 for continuous violations of solid waste regulations.