A bitter, five-year controversy involving asbestos deposits on Marco Island has reached resolution.
After lengthy negotiations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced it had entered into an administrative consent agreement with both the City of Marco Island and Quality Enterprises USA.
The agreement settles allegations that the city and the company violated the Clean Air Act and the federal asbestos regulations, known as the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Asbestos.
According to a statement released by the EPA Thursday afternoon, under the agreement Marco Island and Quality Enterprises agreed to pay a penalty of $81,722.
Meanwhile, in accordance with a separate agreement between the city and Quality Enterprises, Quality will pay the entire penalty.
The alleged violations occurred during the city’s Collier Boulevard road-widening and sewer and drinking water pipe installation project that began in 2005.
At the core of the controversy were asbestos samples later found in rubble stored at the city’s Veterans Community Park.
Civic watchdogs claimed incompetence and hushing up the presence of asbestos on the part of the city, but counterclaims were that some of those watchdogs actually planted pieces of the toxic substance in the rubble.
The outcome is that the city and construction firm were found by the EPA to have improperly handled toxic asbestos-containing cement pipe on Marco at the time.
The news was welcomed by Marco Island City Council Chairman Frank Recker.
“We knew this was coming,” said Recker adding that city leaders had been working with the EPA to resolve the issue. “We are certainly delighted that it is now behind us.”
Former councilwoman Terri DiSciullo was in the thick of things during the controversy.
Friday, she said she agreed Quality Enterprises should be the one to pay the fine.
“They should have been properly trained to handle the asbestos, and I always felt they were more culpable in not knowing how to handle it once it was found,” she said.
“Once we knew the asbestos was there,” DiSciullo recalled, “we called in the authorities. We made sure we did everything correctly. Then it just became an issue of who was going to pay (for the cleanup).”
DiSciullo praised Recker’s efforts of late.
“I’m happy that Chairman Recker did a great job in going to Atlanta and representing the city, and coming through with the outcome,” she said.
Looking back to the hush-up allegations, DiSciullo said she didn’t believe the watchdogs were being negative.
“I think they were looking after the best interests of the city,” she said. “To some, they may have seemed like extremists, but they had a fear of the substance and were worried it was dangerous to the health and welfare of the city.”
In May, leaders from Marco Island and Quality Enterprises flew to Atlanta to negotiate a settlement with the EPA. They sought to avoid hefty fines from the EPA.
Cleanup actions were completed in accordance with the work plans in May 2007, April 2008 and November 2008 respectively.
Subsequent confirmatory soil sampling did not indicate the presence of any remaining asbestos fibers, said EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young in the statement.
Recker added that the EPA sent the city a letter, confirming there were no limitations or restrictions to the use of the property.
“In my mind that equates a clean bill of health (for the park),” he said.
Under the Consent Agreement, the city and Quality have certified that they are in compliance with all relevant requirements of the asbestos regulations.
The alleged violations of the asbestos regulations included:
■ Failure to conduct a thorough inspection for asbestos prior to the excavation of asbestos-containing cement piping
■ Failure to provide timely written notification to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection prior to beginning the construction project
■ Failure to remove the excavated asbestos-containing piping prior to conducting construction activity that would break up, dislodge or disturb the asbestos material
■ Failure to adequately wet and keep wet the excavated asbestos-containing piping until disposed
■ Failure to have on-site a supervisor properly trained in the asbestos regulations
■ Failure to properly dispose of the excavated asbestos-containing piping and asbestos-contaminated debris as soon as practical.