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Judge: Clean up Oronoco auto yard within 2 months

Pollution agency's administrative order is given legal force when a district court judge signs on.

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The former Oronoco Auto Parts site is shown Friday, July 23, 2021, in Oronoco. The site has been ordered to be cleaned up more thoroughly by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and now a Second Judicial District Court judge. Post Bulletin file photo / Joe Ahlquist

ORONOCO — Without much resistance from the defendants Friday, Second Judicial District Judge Patrick Diamond turned the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's administrative order against Oronoco Auto Salvage into a court order.

The change from an administrative order to the court order means that the cleanup order now has a body behind it – the court – with enforcement powers.

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The MPCA, while a regulatory agency, has no enforcement powers, said J. Qortney McLeod, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota and the attorney for the MPCA in its case against Oronoco Auto Salvage.
The case began after a July 28, 2019, flood along the Zumbro River through Oronoco caused debris and hazardous materials from the former auto salvage yard to be carried downstream along the river toward Lake Zumbro. Items carried along in the floodwaters, according to court records and previous reporting by the Post Bulletin included tires, car parts, 55-gallon drums of automotive fluids, and chemicals that required community cleanup efforts.

The MPCA later ordered the corporation through its owners – CEO Clyde Payne, Russ Payne and Chris Ericksson – through a Notice of Violation that it needed to clean up the site to prevent environmental damage from any future flooding.

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According to court documents, the MPCA alleges that while Oronoco Auto Salvage did take some corrective action from Dec. 2, 2019, to May 20, 2020, those actions were incomplete based on the Notice of Violation. The MPCA then issued an Administrative Order describing actions that must be completed within 30 to 60 days. However, no further cleanup was observed.

Items still outstanding include failure to dispose of all containers of waste fluids and above ground tanks of used oil on site, at a licensed facility and submit all documentation of the disposal of waste fluids to MPCA; failure to hire a qualified environmental consultant to develop a work plan to characterize contaminated areas at the facility, failure to submit a site investigation report to the MPCA for review and approval, failure to submit photographs to the MPCA documenting that all used oil contaminated floor dry in the shop has been swept up and containerized in containers labeled with the words “Used Oil Contaminated Floor Dry,” failure to submit a Hazardous Waste Generator License Application, and failure to submit a written plan for how they will properly manage the removal and disposal of all solid waste, including waste tires, present at and around the premises of the facility.

With the court order now in place, McLeod said, "Oronoco Auto Salvage will have 30 to 60 days for corrective actions."

If the corporation still does not complete the cleanup order, McLeod said the MPCA will return to court and ask for enforcement through a motion of contempt. While contempt remedies can take many forms from garnishment of funds to jail terms, McLeod said it's unlikely anyone would go to jail.

During Friday's court hearing, both Russ Payne and Clyde Payne were present online. However, the third owner of the company, Chris Ericksson was not present. Clyde Payne told Diamond that Ericksson was the one of the three owners who had been put in charge of the cleanup efforts.

"That doesn’t bode well for the cleanup if the person in charge of the cleanup isn’t here," Diamond told the Paynes.

He then went on to say that no matter who was put in charge, all three individuals would be held responsible if the cleanup is not completed in a timely manner.

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