Grabhorn says he complied: enforcement is pending

State Department of Environmental Quality officials warned Howard Grabhorn this week that his Lakeside Reclamation Landfill must stem water runoff from ponds on the property or face possible penalties.

DEQ officials sent a pre-enforcement letter Tuesday to Grabhorn saying his landfill must immediately file a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for the runoff. He also has until April 21 to tell DEQ's Northwest Region office in Portland about any other stormwater discharge from his property that could flow into the Tualatin River.

The issue also has been turned over to the agency's Office of Compliance and Enforcement for possible action that could include fines. Under state law, the most severe penalty is $10,000 a day for each violation.

Not so fast, said Larry D. Harvey of Pac/West Communications in Wilsonville, Grabhorn's representative. The landfill owner thought he responded to DEQ's concerns in a Feb. 13 letter that discussed issues raised during a mid-January inspection of the landfill, Harvey said.

'Mr. Grabhorn thought he had already complied with DEQ,' he said.

'We don't know how we'll respond to that (the DEQ pre-enforcement letter). Historically, we've responded to everything DEQ has sent us.'

Although DEQ's latest enforcement letter was dated March 19, it wasn't mailed to Grabhorn until Tuesday because of a mailing procedure error. The letter was e-mailed to him and a paper copy was sent by overnight mail, DEQ officials said.

Harvey said Grabhorn's representatives had to call DEQ about the letter after receiving several calls from newspaper and television reporters.

'Mr. Grabhorn was in the dark about this,' Harvey said.

Grabhorn's family has operated Lakeside Reclamation Landfill, 14930 S.W. Vandermost Road, since 1953 on land southwest of Beaverton and west of Bull Mountain. The landfill covers 33 acres of the 126.2 acres owned by the family.

Grabhorn also has had a state water permit to irrigate the property since November 1950.

Neighbors along Vandermost Road, including Ponzi Vineyards, have tangled unsuccessfully with Grabhorn and his lawyers for years over the landfill. Most of the complaints have focused on the landfill's size, its odor and land-use compliance issues.

Two DEQ engineers visited the landfill Jan. 8 and discovered that runoff from composting activities was collected in a series of ponds and then flowed into a small creek. Engineer James Nusrala warned Grabhorn in a Jan. 15 letter that the discharges were improper. DEQ gave Grabhorn until mid-February to correct the problem.

Nusrala said the landfill needed an industrial stormwater discharge permit to comply with state law.

Harvey said DEQ was incorrect in its assumptions about the ponds. Pipes from the ponds had been capped, he said.

Because of the runoff, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center and the Friends of the Tualatin Wildlife Refuge said in late January that they would sue Grabhorn and the landfill in federal court for violating clean water standards. The groups gave Grabhorn 60 days notice of their intentions Jan. 24 but have not filed their lawsuit.

In his Feb. 13 letter, Grabhorn wrote that the ponds were for private irrigation and not subject to state regulation.

'Please understand that there is no ongoing discharge from the ponds to the creek or the Tualatin River,' Grabhorn wrote. 'Accordingly, I know of no basis to require that I obtain a stormwater discharge permit.'

Regina Cutler, a DEQ environmental law specialist working on the compliance matter, said the water discharge pre-enforcement letter was one of several issues facing the landfill. DEQ also is investigating possible penalties for the landfill's solid waste and composting activities, she said.

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