Nelson Twp. – Eviction orders were served on U.S. Liquids, Inc. on December 30, 2011, closing a long and troubled chapter for Nelson Township residents since the liquids recycling center opened for business in April 2008.
Nelson Township Trustee Joe Leonard said, “The big question now is what to do with all the junk piled up on the property and the remaining waste products in the liquids left behind. The liquid left in four big holding tanks and raceways is still a mystery. We’re concerned about that.”
Leonard was with fellow trustees and a representative from the receivership company (which protects the property and reports to the bank) to inspect the aftermath a week later on January 6. What they found “was a humungous mess — worse than anything I had imagined,” Leonard said. “It’s a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling indoor dump, and every room has a different stench. We’re easily looking at a million-dollar cleanup.”
Leonard has called upon the Portage County Health Department to test neighboring well water, and the Ohio EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to test the water in lagoons, holding tanks, pond and raceways on the industrial property for levels of contaminants, including metals, chemicals and bacteria.
When entrepreneur Mark Fuerst founded U.S. Liquids at the former Bil-Mar Turkey Farm along State Route 88, he promised to bring jobs, ‘green’ technology and positive economic growth to the area by processing beverage liquids including soda, syrup, juice, beer, wine and similar sugar-based products. Instead, surrounding residents complained of stench in the air, fouled waterways and unscrupulous business practices.
Township trustees, the zoning inspector, the health department, prosecutor, Ohio EPA and other watchdog entities were called upon to intervene, with only temporary results. Reports of increased rat and mosquito infestations were among the complaints. Several miles of Camp Creek turned green in March 2009 due to the fact that wastewater had overflowed from U.S. Liquids’ treatment system; fishkill was confirmed by the EPA. In April 2009, the EPA spill hotline received an alert that the creekwater had turned brown. This time, EPA determined the cause was that U.S. Liquids had pumped raw wastewater from a private pond into Camp Creek.
Public complaints continued. Some measures were taken by U.S. Liquids to comply and relieve public alarm, including a plan to sell liquid waste as livestock feed and as a source for ethanol producers, according to EPA records. Later, Fuerst reported to the EPA’s Twinsburg office that he was planning to expand operations to include raising as many as 2,400 pigs at the facility and to gain licensing as a Class III Compost Facility.
Finally by the end of 2011, U.S. Liquids went bankrupt, the industrial property was foreclosed upon, and the company was evicted by Old National Bank. Approximately 10 people lost their jobs as a result, Leonard estimated.
“Hopefully, our nightmare is over,” said Leonard. “Next time someone shows interest in this property, we need to do our research, do our homework, and conduct background checks. If we had done that in the first place, prior lawsuits and other problems on public record would have set red flags waving when he first came here.”