Michigan Attorney General Announces State's Largest Environmental Fine

The Macomb County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the state of Michigan in an important illegal dumping case, and assessed the largest civil fine ever imposed in the history of Michigan environmental law enforcement.

A jubilant state Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm yesterday said the court order, entered on April 9, assesses fines of more than $36 million against 16 individuals and businesses for violating the state's environmental laws at nine different sites in Wayne, Oakland and Barry Counties.

"On the eve of Earth Day, what a blockbuster message to send to would-be polluters in Michigan: if you dump it in an illegal way, we'll make certain that you pay for it in a big way," said Granholm. "In a state so literally defined by our natural environment, we simply will not stand idly by while polluters run rough-shod over the law."

The ruling is part of a large illegal dumping case involving Phillip Stramaglia, several members of the Stramaglia family, Peter Adamo, Andiamo Inc. and numerous corporations owned and operated by the Stramaglias. The state alleged that the Stramaglias illegally dumped construction wastes including insulation, broken concrete, roofing materials, used mattresses and other trash at sites they operated as unlicensed solid waste disposal facilities beginning as early as 1992.

In July 1996, the Department of the Attorney General and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality filed a civil action against the Stramaglias and other defendants alleging that the illegal dumping violated several parts of Michigan's environmental laws. A six-week trial in the spring of 2001 found the defendants liable for operating the illegal dumping facilities and ordered them to clean up the sites.

After the defendants failed to comply with the cleanup orders, Granholm asked the court to enter a final judgment for all costs the state incurred and will incur for removing the waste and investigating the sites for further contamination where needed, along with assessment of civil fines for violating the state's Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

On April 9, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Deborah A. Servitto issued a final opinion and order assessing each defendant a $250,000 fine for each state law violation at each site. These civil fines total $36 million. In addition, the defendants will be responsible for repaying the state for any "response costs" - costs incurred to clean up the sites - which have already been incurred or will be incurred in the future.

The largest of the sites, an industrial building on Harper Avenue in Detroit, was, at one point, so full of rubbish and construction trash that the walls buckled. Witnesses in Granholm's case against the Stramaglias said a trash pile at another site was "probably every bit of 50-feet high." The Harper Avenue site was demolished - and all of its wastes properly disposed of - in October 1997 at a cost of more than $1.3 million to the state.

"We agree with the judge that a cleanup of these sites is long overdue," said Granholm. "Though the defendants have completely ignored their responsibilities, this ruling may give the state the financial ability to make the cleanup a reality."

edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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