Brownfield cleanup in Wood River collapses

Steve Korris Apr. 25, 2008, 6:45am

Former Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano prepares to cut ribbon at Deer Park in 2002.

An overlook at Deer Park photographed in 2002

Deer Park shuttered on April 9. A BP official said the park, closed for maintenance, was re-opened April 17 or 18.

Contractor and developer Rick Jones owns all properties on Jones Way in Wood River. Former BP official Greg Jevyak has lived at 11 Jones Way.

WOOD RIVER – Six years after state and local leaders unveiled a plan to clean up 840 acres of refinery pollution and attract all sorts of industry, those in charge of the project have gone away but the pollution has not.

The cleanup of the former American Oil Company refinery collapsed in 2004, after soil samples revealed contaminants that had not showed up in previous samples.

The reversal from positive to negative test results torpedoed a hyped-up redevelopment project, and after that everything unraveled.

To this day, however, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing the cleanup have not established any reasons for the reversal.

Because property owner BP Products North America pays for the cleanup, they say, anything that goes wrong stays between BP and its contractors.

"Processes worked the way they were supposed to," said IEPA spokesperson Maggie Carson, about the agency's oversight.

Rick Jones of Wood River, former BP contractor and developer under two business names, sued BP in Madison County circuit court in 2005 over the project's failure.

Tom Lakin, now under indictment on morals and drug charges, represented Jones's contracting business, Triad Industries, and his development business, RLJ LLC.

Jones and BP settled in 2006, on confidential terms.

Around the time of the lawsuit, Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano resigned, chief project engineer John Dennison and BP environmental business manager Greg Jevyak left their jobs, and Jones pulled his companies off the project.

Cipriano resigned May 12, 2005, and on May 15 the agency began an intense review that lasted until October.

In spite of close attention, records at Illinois EPA headquarters in Springfield run short on science and long on strange circumstances.

Deer Park, where Cipriano broke ground for American Commons in 2002, had been closed off to the public for some time "for maintenance" until late last week, according to an official at BP.

When asked for assurance that Deer Park was now safe for public access spokesperson Carson said on Tuesday she could not "definitively" say that it was. On Thursday, she said that if there is reason to believe contaminants at the site pose a public health risk, for instance to drinking water, the EPA would "take steps."

"If there is exposure to the public, those are things we react to directly," she said.

"It's a refinery. There's been operations there a long time. At some depth there is some level of contamination," she said.

"We're not pretending contamination doesn't exist at some level."

Jones and Jevyak

In spite of the project's failure, Jones and Jevyak apparently came out on top, literally.

They have lived in mansions on Jones Way in Wood River, atop the bluff that rises from the Mississippi River flood plain.

According to county property records, Jones owns all properties on Jones Way. Court records also show that Jevyak has been subpoenaed at a residence at 11 Jones Way.

The Illinois EPA says it has no interest in the contractual relationship between Jones and Jevyak. But, even though the Illinois EPA doesn't need to know what happened between Jones and Jevyak, Jones' wife wants to know.

Mrs. Jones wants to know

In a Madison County divorce proceeding that Rick Jones initiated last year, Dorothy Jones deposed Jevyak and others in the refinery project.

Her attorney, Erin Reilly of Edwardsville, filed notice April 18 to depose individuals and entities including Jarrett Industries of Wood River, Synergy Envirotech & Maintenance of South Roxana, Miles R. Lynch, Keller Construction of Glen Carbon and Mangoe & Associates.

Dorothy Jones moved in March for sanctions against her husband for failure to answer questions Reilly served on him.

Associate Judge Duane Bailey has set a May 15 hearing on sanctions.

When Jones and BP undertook the cleanup, they agreed that after Triad cleaned up a section of the property, RLJ LLC would take it on a long term lease.

No owner had ever cleaned and conveyed a property that way, because federal law required complete cleaning of a property before an owner could sell any part.

To clean the property bit by bit, BP would take advantage of a new amendment to the law allowing exceptions to the requirement for total cleanup.

Big vision falls short

Cipriano announced the cleanup plan at Deer Park in 2002.

She said it would start with a six acre retail and office park.

Jones told reporters heavy traffic on Route 143 would create business opportunities.

He said he would develop the perimeter first.

Work began and for two years everything apparently went right.

Signs of trouble in 2004

The first sign of trouble lurked in a work schedule that Rick Hartley, of URS engineering in Chicago, submitted on Aug. 13, 2004.

He wrote that corrective actions were "delayed due to ongoing discussions between IEPA and BP regarding general scope of work changes at the Wood River facility."

Twelve days later representatives of Illinois EPA, U.S. EPA, BP and URS met to discuss "closure status of the South Flare Pit."

Jones, the cleanup contractor, did not attend.

Notes from the meeting show that Illinois EPA asked for a "risk evaluation of post-remediation conditions" and a "control proposal."

Someone recommended more testing, every two feet down.

At the meeting or soon after, Illinois EPA asked for soil tests every three months instead of every six months.

Early reports did not pinpoint the problem, but later correspondence would refer to "SSI's" – statistically significant increases of contaminants.

Later correspondence would also refer to high levels of arsenic, barium, naphthalene, volatile organic compounds and semi volatile organic compounds.

BP submitted a report in April 2005, but Illinois EPA scientist Jim Moore panned it.

He identified the South Flare Pit as a source of future groundwater contamination and declared BP's report unacceptable.

Meanwhile, BP and Jones stopped getting along.

Downhill in 2005

BP and Jones signed a "standstill agreement" on April 14, 2005, in which both pledged not to take any steps toward finding a buyer for 30 days.

On May 12, Cipriano resigned.

On May 15, Amy Boley of Illinois EPA began a review of the cleanup.

On Sept. 6, Boley began keeping an "exceedances log."

On Sept. 8, she talked by telephone with chief project engineer John Dennison of URS.

On Sept. 16, Dennison filed to modify the permit and the monitoring program.

On Sept. 17, the standstill agreement between BP and Jones expired.

On Sept. 19, Lakin sued BP on behalf of Triad Industries and RLJ LLC.

Lakin claimed that late in 2004, Jones arranged to lease a piece of the property and BP wrecked the deal.

Lakin alleged fraud, claiming BP told Jones he would manage, lease or sublease the property when BP had no intention of letting him do those things.

On Sept. 21, Boley called Dennison's number only to find out he left the firm.

Hartley stepped into Dennison's shoes and filed on Sept. 28 to modify the permit.

Hartley tried to persuade Boley that tests reflecting high levels of metals related to "off site issues."

Boley wrote, "All I see off site in both directions is residential areas."

In March 2006, Jones dismissed his suit against BP.

In April, Jones notified Illinois EPA that he no longer had any responsibility or authority for the project.

At that point Jevyak, whose name had appeared on all BP correspondence about the project, disappeared from the record.

This week, a recording on Jevyak's former phone number at BP said he no longer works there.

BP still hasn't returned any land to productive purposes.

Last year, BP hired real estate broker Jones Lang LaSalle of Chicago to find buyers.

To date, Illinois EPA has declared 156 of the 840 acres clean enough to develop.

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