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Court orders two Northland residents to pay $1 million for pollution violations

Waste petroleum product oozes from a barrel at the former J & D Services fuel recycling operation in Aurora. State regulators have won a more than $1 million settlement against former owners of the site, including Dultuh businessman Dale Cich. MPCA photo

John Myers

Forum News Service

Two Northland residents, including one with a history of pollution violations, must pay more than $1 million in fines and fees for pollution violations after a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The decision upheld a lower court ruling that Dale Cich, his partner Diane Anderson and their company J & D Services must pay a civil penalty of $677,072 for environmental violations and reimburse the state $316,000 for waste cleanup and another $67,000 in attorney’s fees.

Cich and J & D Services operated a fuel recycling business in Aurora that closed in the early 2000s. The state says the company abandoned approximately 30,000 gallons of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste on that property. Anderson, who lives with Cich, was listed on legal documents as owner of the property.

Cich currently is listed as the president of Cich Services Inc. on Lavaque Road just north of Duluth. Reached by the News Tribune on Tuesday by phone, Cich said the state wrongly pursued the case against him. His Duluth attorney, Bill Paul, said Cich and Anderson are the victims of the LTV Steel Mining Co. bankruptcy because the company never paid Cich to dispose of 1,100 barrels of waste oil and grease he removed from its Hoyt Lakes taconite operations.

Paul said Cich properly disposed of all but 140 barrels but was never paid the $650,000 owed him by LTV or the bankruptcy court. Without the payment Cich couldn’t afford to dispose of all of the barrels as fast as the state demanded.

“We should be the heroes in the case for getting rid of 90 percent of this stuff at our own expense. We almost finished it when they (PCA) came through the door and decided to hang us,’’ Cich said. “It’s crazy.”

The PCA said Tuesday that this is the seventh-largest civil penalty in the agency’s history and fourth-largest for waste violations.

The PCA said it filed the court case only after Cich and Anderson failed to comply with a consent decree that all the waste be removed by 2013. That didn’t happened, so the PCA took legal action.

The PCA said that “because Cich, Anderson and J & D Services failed to comply, site conditions deteriorated to the point where the MPCA declared an emergency and used public funds to properly dispose of the waste.”

The agency then asked the district court to require Cich and Anderson to pay a civil penalty for failing to comply with the consent decree and reimburse the state for cleanup costs. The district court agreed, set the civil penalty and added the attorney fees to the state’s reimbursement costs.

The appeals court heard the case earlier this year and issued a decision dismissing the appeal in April. Cich’s opportunity to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court expired Friday.

It’s not the first time Cich has been in the news for pollution violations.

In 1999 Cich’s businesses — Haglun Marine and Environmental Troubleshooters/Remediation Services Inc., located just outside Duluth — were raided by FBI agents searching for hazardous waste, asbestos and other toxic material illegally buried and stored on the property.

A federal grand jury indicted Cich and his former wife, Judith Perrault, of felony charges of illegally dumping demolition debris and other pollutants into wetlands. Prosecutors dropped those charged and, in exchange, Cich pleaded guilty to negligent filling of wetlands, a misdemeanor. He admitted to filling wetlands with debris from 1983 to 1999.

In February 2003, Cich was sentenced in Federal District Court in Minneapolis to five years probation and was ordered to clean up demolition debris and other pollutants from wetlands near his businesses in Rice Lake Township.

“The environmental harm resulting from the filling of these wetlands occurred over more than a decade,” then-U.S. Attorney Bill Koch said at the time. “This resolution will require the person responsible, and not the general public, to pay for the remediation of the wetlands.”

The companies involved at that time were DC Enterprises, a residential construction company engaged in general contracting and demolition construction, and J & D Services, an environmental contracting company that cleans up and remediates contaminated sites.