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For the week of October 11 through 17, 2000

Sun Valley Co. fined for hazardous chemicals

"I don’t know the answer" to why the resort stopped reporting. "That is the question."

Wally Huffman, Sun Valley Co. general manager

Express Staff Writer

Sinclair Oil Corp., the owner of Sun Valley Co., has agreed to pay $80,000 in federal fines for failure to report 4,000 pounds of ammonia, 37,000 pounds of gasoline and 400,000 pounds of diesel stored at the resort.

Sun Valley Co. houses the diesel and gasoline at the Sinclair gas station on Sun Valley Road and at the base of Dollar Mountain, where the ski area refuels its snow-grooming equipment.

The resort keeps ammonia, which it uses as a refrigerant, adjacent to its ice rinks.

By failing to notify the local fire department and other agencies, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said in an Oct. 4 press release, the resort created a potentially dangerous situation for emergency responders and surrounding neighborhoods.

Firefighters and other emergency personnel need to know about large amounts of stored hazardous materials so they can plan for accidents, the EPA stated.

The EPA accused Sun Valley of violating the 1986 federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). According to the press release, the EPA and the state of Idaho’s Bureau of Hazardous Materials identified Sun Valley Co. as being out of compliance with EPCRA through a joint onsite inspection carried out in October 1999.

The EPA accused Sun Valley Co. of failing to respond to compliance letters and for failing to report the presence of the hazardous materials from 1994 to 1998.

Without admitting or denying the charges, Sun Valley Co. settled with the EPA in late September. The settlement happened instead of the EPA and Sinclair Oil entering into a formal administrative hearing process that allows little flexibility for the two parties to negotiate.

During a telephone interview yesterday, EPA EPCRA coordinator Suzanne Powers said she thinks Sinclair Oil "got a fair deal" from the settlement.

If a formal complaint had been filed, the EPA, she said, could have levied a maximum penalty of $27,500 per day for each of the several alleged violations from 1994 to 1998. EPA policy, however, allows the government agency to levy only one percent of that, she said.

One reason the EPA likes to settle violations before filing a formal complaint, she said, is that it allows the EPA to negotiate with violators to initiate supplemental safety projects, such as installing alarm systems and training employees to deal with accidents.

But Sinclair Oil, she said, was only willing to "write the check and be done with it," without agreeing to do any supplemental projects.

"In my opinion, it didn’t work the way I wanted it to," she said. "But the good thing is [the fine] got the company’s attention."

Sun Valley Co. general manager Wally Huffman said in a Friday telephone conversation that the resort reported the materials from 1986 to 1993, but then stopped.

"I don’t know the answer," to why the resort stopped reporting, he said, "That is the question."

Huffman, who attributed the problem to internal miscommunication among resort administration, called the fine a "donation."

Michael Echeita, the city of Sun Valley Fire Department’s assistant fire chief, said in a telephone interview Friday that the resort created no practical danger by not reporting the materials.

"We’ve known about the ammonia plant since the ice rink has been there," he said. "We know it’s there, and we know how to deal with it. They just didn’t do their paperwork."

The fire department knows about the materials because it does an annual inspection of the resort, he said, but the EPA has to enforce its regulations because some fire departments in other areas do not do inspections.

Bill Dunbar, a spokesman for the EPA’s Northwest Region Seattle office, said in a Friday telephone interview that for some companies, the cost of complying with environmental regulations is more expensive than for not complying and then paying the resulting fines. He said the EPA attempts to eliminate that problem by performing an "economic benefit analysis" to determine what fine amount will compel a company to comply with the rules.

In the seven-page, Sept. 27 settlement agreement, both the EPA and Sinclair Oil agree to pay their own costs and attorney fees associated with the infraction.

To avoid further penalties, Sinclair Oil must pay the fine within 30 days of the end of September.


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