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Post date: June 4 2001

State Sues Air Force Over North Country Cleanup

Attorney General Spitzer and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Erin M. Crotty today filed a $1.57 million federal lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force to recover the costs of cleaning up a contaminated site in Clinton County.

"This lawsuit seeks to compel the Air Force to pay the cost of the cleanup so that New York taxpayers won't face an undue financial burden," Attorney General Spitzer said.

DEC Commissioner Crotty said: "DEC's cleanup of the polluted groundwater resulting from the disposal of waste oil at this site is essential for the protection of the environment and public health. Since the Air Force has been identified as one of the parties responsible for this contamination, it should reimburse New York for the cleanup costs, as required by federal law."

During the 1960s and 1970s, Philip Rickson and his family - the owners of Philmar Electronics on Mason Street in Morrisonville - frequently transported 55-gallon drums of waste oil from Plattsburgh Air Force Base to their salvage business. Over the years, hundreds of drums were stockpiled there and were later buried or punctured and drained into the ground, resulting in extensive soil and water contamination on the property.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent about $1.5 million cleaning up polluted soil at the 7.2-acre Philmar site. The Air Force reimbursed EPA $1.2 million for the work. But the Air Force has refused to reimburse the state DEC for its $1.57 million cleanup of groundwater contamination at the site.

Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed in 1995 and Philmar Electronics was declared bankrupt in 1998.

DEC has been treating groundwater at the site since 1998 and will continue to monitor that effort. Contaminated soil at the site has been remediated.

Under federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the Air Force - as the original source of the pollution - is liable for cleanup costs.

Negotiations between the Air Force and the state failed to produce a reasonable settlement of the Air Force's liability under federal environmental laws. Consequently, Attorney General Spitzer filed the legal action today in federal district court in Albany.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Karen R. Kaufmann and Assistant Attorney General David Munro, under the supervision of Environmental Bureau Chief Peter H. Lehner. Dolores Tuohy is handling the case for DEC.