MEDFORD, Ore. — A Florida-based contractor faces more than $74,000 in fines for violating Oregon's asbestos disposal regulations during clean-up after the Almeda Fire, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
While much of the Almeda clean-up is being performed in two phases by state and federal-sanctioned contractors DEQ said that the owners of the Medford Estates mobile home park independently brought in BACH Development to clear the sites destroyed by the Almeda Fire. BACH was not of the contractors employed by the state.
Over the course of late November and early December of 2020, DEQ said that BACH "improperly cleared, removed, loaded and packaged asbestos-containing wildfire debris" from Medford Estates without getting the required license from the state. BACH allegedly didn't notify the disposal site of the type and amount of waste, and didn't get the site's approval before bringing the debris.
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission did provide some temporary flexibility to several asbestos rules for the fire clean-up, but DEQ said that many rules remained in place to protect workers and the public.
"These rules provide important health protection for workers and the public," the agency said. "Exposure to asbestos may cause cancer and other illnesses. There’s no known safe level of exposure."
BACH Development can appeal the proposed penalty and request a hearing within 20 days of receiving notice from DEQ. In total, the civil penalty amounts to $74,469.
The state's clean-up operation has been ongoing since October. Phase one of the project focused on the removal of hazardous waste, overseen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The second phase, still ongoing, is focused on the removing the bulk of ash and other debris left behind.
Property owners needed to opt in for the government-led clean-up process, signing Right of Entry forms to grant permission. Officials repeatedly underlined that the clean-up, done this way, would be practically cost free for property owners.
But with the process still ongoing more than months after the Almeda Fire, time has increasingly become a complicating factor as many property owners continue waiting for the chance to rebuild with looming insurance deadlines.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.