Taxpayers on hook for Schwerin Concaves cleanup

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In a recent article in the U-B, comments were being sought on a draft plan to continue cleanup of toxic waste at the Schwerin Concaves site at 1106 Sapolil Road. What the article failed to say was that, per Department of Ecology reports, from the first Ecology inspection in June 1988 through 1993, over 40 site violations at Schwerin Concaves, a family-operated business, were recorded.

From 1994 through1999, six more inspections were made with continued violations noted. A fine of $221,000 was levied.

Given the financial condition of the business, Ecology elected not to pursue collection of the fine. A spokesman for the state's hazardous waste program said the violations were major and pervasive ... going beyond poor waste management practices to unsafe, even dangerous waste storage handling.

Now, a number of years later, Ecology is proposing more clean-up of the former Schwerin Concaves site, which is on a 10-acre tax lot on Sapolil Road. Per an Ecology news release dated Oct. 30, 2012, the Schwerin Concaves operation released wastewater containing hexavalent chromium into the soil and groundwater, and the site also contains elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, iron, lead, zinc, nitrate and sulfate.

This same 10-acre site became home to Sapolil Cellars Winery, LLC, with William Schwerin listed as winemaker, with the 10-acre site being quit claimed to Sapolil Cellars Winery, LLC in 2010. This same 10 acres was then, for whatever reason, quit claimed back to Schwerin family members in 2012.

Ecology considers this an "orphan site," meaning the people responsible for the pollution are unavailable or financially unable to conduct an adequate clean-up operation.

This second clean-up of the site is estimated to be at a cost of $400,000 to $600,000 to the taxpayers and proposes monitoring for an additional 10 years.

In hindsight, if Ecology had shut down the site in a timely manner, or Schwerin Concaves had operated the site in an environmentally safe manner this expense and the danger to the environment would have never happened.

Since the legal maneuvers involving Schwerin Concaves appear to be over, with no one taking financial responsibility, maybe it is time for the taxpayers to say "enough."

For all of the people originally connected with Schwerin Concaves to band together once again and make a $100,000 donation to the Children's Make a Wish Foundation would be a viable, and at least partially redeeming action. In addition to making that evening glass of wine easier for the community to swallow, it would be, first and foremost the "right thing to do."

Kathy Jordan

Walla Walla

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