Regulators say corrective actions required at Fruitland recycling site

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Environment Department will require corrective actions be taken at Tri Delta Iron & Metal in Fruitland to remediate contaminated soil.

Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said that inspectors visited the property at 28 Highway 6743 twice in October to follow-up on allegations that employees at the recycling business dumped battery acid into the San Juan River.

Rodney Wilkinson, a former Tri Delta Iron and Metal subcontractor, claimed in April that "truckloads" of industrial-sized batteries and battery acid had been dumped at the property last fall. As previously reported in this newspaper, the investigation was stalled for six months after an inspector from the department went to the wrong address.

The department launched the follow-up investigation after Wilkinson filed a second complaint on Oct. 2 with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency. That agency contacted the state Environment Department.

Juel Jordahl, the owner of Tri Delta Iron & Metal, was charged in June with multiple felonies for allegedly stealing approximately $400,000 worth of diesel fuel from BHP Billiton. The alleged thefts were brought to the attention of authorities by Wilkinson, who Jordahl employed as a subcontractor from August through December 2013, according to an arrest warrant.

Jordahl is expected to appear at a pretrial conference on Monday. He did not respond by deadline on Friday to a request for comment.

Winchester said that an environmental health inspector visited the property owned by Jordahl on Oct. 15 and spoke to him. Inspectors from several different bureaus, including hazardous waste and surface water quality, visited the property on Oct. 27 and noted problems with waste disposal and storage.

According to an inter-office memo provided by Winchester, Jordahl admitted that batteries had accidently broken open at the property. He said that he had sprinkled laundry detergent in the battery storage area. He told inspectors that he sent soil from the area to a third-party environmental consulting firm in July. The firm's results showed the soil was slightly alkaline.

An Environment Department employee took three surface soil samples in the battery storage area during the Oct. 27 visit. Those samples were sent to a laboratory in Fort Collins, Colo., for testing, the memo states.

Inspectors noted two areas at the site where the soil seemed disturbed. Jordahl said that an unknown quantity of petroleum product had been released at the site.

He said the third-party environmental consulting firm recommended that he till the soil and add a bioremediation chemical. He said a soil sample from the area showed a petroleum hydrocarbon concentration of 27,000 milligrams per kilogram.

Winchester said in an email that the Environment Department typically requires that the petroleum hydrocarbon concentration level at an industrial site remain between 1,000 and 5,000 milligrams per kilogram.

Inspectors also said in the memo that several 55- and 250-gallon drums containing oil and hydraulic fluid needed to be removed from the site. The materials contained in several other steel drum barrels were unknown and inspectors said they needed to be identified and potentially removed.

Inspectors told Jordahl that he would be served with a notice of violation within 60 days, according to the memo. They said a follow-up inspection may be required, depending on Jordahl's compliance.

Winchester said his department is compiling a final report and enforcement document that will outline what actions will need to be taken by Jordahl. The department's Surface Water Quality Bureau will also forward its report to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has primary jurisdiction over water quality.

The inspectors noted in the memo that no materials were observed leaking into the San Juan River during their visit.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.