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Ohio incinerator opponents seek investigation; environmental group asks Governor to look into conduct of company

 

June 26, 1997

Margaret Newkirk
Akron Beacon Journal

Opponents of the controversial Waste Technologies Industries hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool are asking Gov. George Voinovich to investigate WTI and the North Ohio Valley Air Authority, or NOVAA.

In a letter to Voinovich, delivered yesterday, members of the Tri-State Environmental Council asked the governor's office to look into the incinerator company's conduct, alleging it has influenced public agencies that are supposed to protect the public.

"We think the governor has an obligation and a responsibility to everybody who is living next to this incinerator to look at these matters," said Terri Swearingen, one of four East Liverpool incinerator opponents speaking at a news conference in Columbus yesterday morning.

The request was the latest step in what has been a 17-year battle by incinerator foes. And it came the same day those foes lost yet another round.

An examiner for the state Hazardous Waste Facilities Board yesterday recommended that the board grant WTI a permit allowing the incinerator to list an ownership change.

Opponents, relying on a 1994 opinion of former Ohio Attorney General Lee Fisher, had hoped the change in ownership would force WTI to begin its permit process all over again.

Examiner Pete Precario's report said that incinerator foes had raised legitimate issues about the ownership of WTI, but that they were beyond the purview of the hazardous waste facilities board.

The board has the option of voting against its examiner's recommendation.

Voinovich spokesman Mike Dawson said the governor has forwarded the investigation request to Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Donald Schregardus. WTI spokesman Raymond Wayne could not be reached for comment.

Opponents want Voinovich to look into WTI's financial relationship with NOVAA, the Ohio EPA's air monitoring arm in eastern Ohio, with former NOVAA employees Vincent Zumpano and Pat DeLuca, and with the East Liverpool Board of Health.

Both NOVAA and the health board were at one time part of a monitoring committee called the Tri-Lateral Committee, which was funded by NOVAA. Through the committee, NOVAA employees received supplemental paychecks funded by WTI, at the same time they were under contract with the Ohio EPA to monitor the facility. The checks were reputedly to do extra monitoring work.

WTI also signed off on equipment and purchases for the committee and paid the salary of one health board employee. The health board dropped out of the committee this year because of concerns about WTI's funding role.

"NOVAA is supposed to be an independent agency," Swearingen said. "We want to know if that independence was corrupted by Von Roll (WTI's Swiss parent company) through shadow payrolls."

WTI spokesman Michael Parkes has defended the arrangement, saying that it was a way to have industry pick up some of the costs of monitoring.

Opponents also want Voinovich to look into connections between NOVAA employees Zumpano and DeLuca and WTI's former Columbus lobbyist, Tony Fabiano. Investigators from the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also looking into a possible financial relationship involving Zumpano, DeLuca and Fabiano, as well as any relationship between Fabiano and Paul Voinovich, the governor's brother.

Zumpano is in jail in Steubenville for trying to bribe a public official on Paul Voinovich's behalf.

Swearingen said she had concerns about the relationship between Fabiano and DeLuca, NOVAA's former director. DeLuca said last week that he helped Fabiano with WTI paperwork.