STEUBENVILLE - A Mahoning County businessman has been ordered to pay an $850,000 civil penalty for the improper demolition of the former Weirton Steel Corp. Steubenville plant.
The order filed last week by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. ordered David Sugar Excavating, Honey Creek Contracting Inc., Excavating Technologies Inc., ADS Leasing and Arthur David Sugar Sr. to pay a civil penalty of $850,000.
Bruzzese said in his court order Sugar is personally liable because of his own personal conduct.
"Sugar was the sole decision maker for all of his companies. When action was taken it was because he ordered that it be taken and when it was not taken it was because he failed to order it. He is liable not because he owned the company but because he made the decisions and gave the orders," continued Bruzzese.
The court believes the demolition may now be complete and the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief may now be moot. A hearing on the continued need for injunctive relief, if any, shall be conducted on April 12. A hearing on court costs and attorneys fees also will be conducted on that day, said Bruzzese in his court order.
Bruzzese also stated in his ruling that demolition work began in 2004, "and was conducted in a cavalier disregard of the asbestos present. Workers did not have protective gear and asbestos from pipes and other installations was scattered everywhere.
"Massive amounts of asbestos were being disturbed and allowed to float in the air. Some was dumped in pits but all or most all was mishandled. Friable asbestos was strewn everywhere. At one point it was described as if a snowstorm had occurred," cited Bruzzese.
He also noted numerous EPA inspections found violations on a grand scale.
"These are not paperwork violations or picky little details. These were serious and meaningful violations that were continuous in nature causing serious health hazards to motorists, boaters, employees of the adjoining facility, general members of the public and Sugar's own employees. So intense and widespread were the numerous violations that the Ohio EPA declared an asbestos public emergency on several occasions," Bruzzese said in his court order.
"Asbestos is widely known to be a dangerous, cancer-causing material, which must be abated in any demolition. The aggressive penalty issued against the defendants in this case shows that endangering Ohioans by failing to properly manage asbestos will not be tolerated," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a Friday afternoon press release.
DeWine and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Sugar and his companies in 2010.
According to DeWine's press release, "The court found that in 2004 the defendants began the demolition of the former Weirton Steel facility and committed 'massive violations' including violating regulations regarding asbestos removal procedures and failure to notify Ohio EPA of asbestos removal."
Sugar and the Ohio EPA reached an agreement for preliminary injunction in 2010 regarding cleanup of the site. In 2011, Sugar and Honey Creek pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy and four counts of violating the Clean Air Act rules related to the proper removal and handling of asbestos.
Sugar purchased the former Weirton Steel site at 200 Slack St. in 2005.
Sugar and his construction company, Honey Creek Contracting Co., in April 2010 pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Columbus to conspiracy and four counts of violating the Clean Air Act rules related to the improper removal and handling of asbestos in connection with work at the former Weirton Steel plant.
Sugar personally was fined $10,000 and the company was fined $50,000 by the federal court.
A two-day bench trial was held in 2012 before Bruzzese regarding liability that resulted in the $850,000 civil penalty.
The civil lawsuit filed in the common pleas court said Sugar and his companies failed to provide written notice to the Ohio EPA on days that parts of the facility were demolished.
Sugar and his companies failed to wet the asbestos, seal it in approved containers, properly label and seal the container, the lawsuit also stated.
During the trial, attorney Clint White of the state attorney general's office told Bruzzese that Sugar saw a "potential for big money" in scrap metal from the Weirton Steel property.
White said there is no safe level for asbestos, adding the material can cause serious respiratory damage and cancer when inhaled.
Attorney Charles Dunlap, representing Sugar, told Bruzzese during the 2012 trial the issue of asbestos removal violations had been settled in federal court. Sugar hired other companies after that to properly remove the asbestos.
Bruzzese noted in his court ruling last week that Sugar has pleaded an inability to pay much of a fine, "due in large part to his gambling which appears to be on a scale almost as grand as his asbestos violations. Gambling is a great way to cleanse dirty money, disappear clean money or just have fun depending upon the approach taken by the gambler. This court has heard and dismisses as not credible all of Mr. Sugar's claims that he lacks funds with which to pay a substantial fine."
"As Attorney General, I take my role in protecting the health and safety of Ohio families very seriously. I will continue to work with Ohio EPA to make sure Ohio's laws regarding asbestos are enforced across the state," said DeWine.
Mark Law contributed to this story. Gossett and Law are reporters for the Herald Star in Steubenville.