Midamerican Energy Co., Le Mars, Iowa, Agree to $4.6 Million Settlement

A proposed consent decree calls for MidAmerican and the city of Le Mars, Iowa, to pay $4.6 million to resolve their liability for contamination at the at the Le Mars Coal Gas Superfund site. The city also agreed to perform work at the site (valued at $500,000) to assist EPA's cleanup.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of EPA announced that a proposed consent decree was lodged on June 1 with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in United States vs. MidAmerican Energy Co. and the city of Le Mars, Iowa. The proposed consent decree would resolve civil claims alleged in a complaint filed simultaneously with the decree, asserting liability against MidAmerican and the city under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA -- the Superfund law) for cleanup costs incurred by the federal government to address releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances at the Superfund site.

"This settlement illustrates that effective results can be achieved when parties choose to focus their efforts on cooperation, protecting the public, and cleaning up the environment, rather than litigation," said Ronald J. Tenpas, acting assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "CERCLA's goals will be vindicated through the proposed settlement because the responsible parties agreed to cooperate, reimburse the United States' costs, and perform response actions at the site."

The complaint alleges that MidAmerican and the city are liable for disposal of hazardous substances at the site, which is now owned by the city and occupied by its Street Department. It also alleges that, among other things, the site was operated by a series of companies as a manufactured gas plant that produced coal gas, carbureted water gas, and waste from those production processes, including associated coal tar wastes.

According to the complaint, EPA has performed several CERCLA response actions to evaluate and address contamination at the site to protect the public. EPA's work to cleanup the site includes a removal action, commenced in 2004, to address releases and threatened releases of hazardous substances, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX) and polycyclic aeromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). That removal action includes excavation of approximately 14 feet of contaminated soil, thermal treatment or disposal of waste materials, backfill of excavated areas and removal of several structures, including gas holders, a tar well, a 12,000-gallon underground storage tank, two 6,000-gallon oil tanks and one 2,000-gallon underground storage tank. EPA will continue to monitor and evaluate the removal action, including work by the city under the order, to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of the response actions taken, and to determine whether those actions are sufficiently protective of human health and the environment.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period. Following public comment, if appropriate, the federal government would file a motion for entry with the court, seeking final court approval of the consent decree.

The consent decree will be available at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. For more information on the Le Mars Coal Gas Superfund site, contact EPA Region 7 at http://www.epa.gov/region7.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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