Court-ordered cleanup deadline passes for Austin Master

MARTINS FERRY — The court-ordered deadline for Austin Master Services to remove excess waste from its recycling facility in Martins Ferry arrived Wednesday, but it is unclear how much progress has been made at the site.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost had filed a complaint against the Pennsylvania-based company in March, seeking to force Austin Master to correct “egregious violations of Ohio law” regarding storage of waste from oil and gas drilling and fracking.

Yost wrote that the waste, some of which is radioactive, threatens the Ohio River and Martins Ferry’s drinking water supply.

Yost filed the complaint in Belmont County Common Pleas Court before Judge John Vavra, who issued a restraining order and preliminary injunction and imposed the April 17 deadline.

“I’ve heard nothing,” Vavra said about the situation at the facility on Wednesday. “After I issued the original restraining order and preliminary injunction … with the deadline, I have heard nothing.”

Vavra said he does expect to hear from Yost’s office, noting that Yost had planned to keep working with the attorney representing Austin Master toward some sort of agreement.

Vavra said he would consider granting more time for cleanup if an agreement is reached that seems to be in the best interest of the community.

Yost’s complaint states that the company is failing to store waste from fracking operations properly at its facility at 801 N. First St. in Martins Ferry.

The complaint notes that location is approximately 500 feet from the Ohio River and about 1,000 feet from the city’s drinking water well field.

Yost further alleges that Austin Master allowed radioactive liquids and sludge to flow uncontained on the facility’s floor and that it used unpermitted storage containers, including three dumpsters, a “green frac tank” and railcars, to store dangerous waste products.

The facility is permitted to store 600 tons of such waste, but it allegedly had collected around 10,000 tons before it laid off its staff and ceased operations in mid-March.

The eight-count complaint asked the court to intervene so that the company would comply with an ODNR chief’s order to stop exceeding its permitted storage capacity, have an adequate number of properly trained employees on site, implement monitoring and inspection procedures, operate in a safe manner and pay fines associated with the alleged violations.

For each of the eight counts, Yost asked the court to impose a fine of $10,000 for each day of each alleged violation.

The Times Leader contacted Yost’s office via email on Wednesday seeking comment on whether the cleanup had been completed and what the next steps would be.

Dominic Binkley, deputy press secretary for the Office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, referred questions on the matter to ODNR.

“It is our understanding that ODNR is closely monitoring the situation at the site,” Binkley replied. “Any questions about the status of the site should be directed to ODNR.”

Andy Chow, ODNR chief of communications, wrote in an email that waste is being removed from the facility.

According to Chow, ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has suspended the permit under which Austin Master was operating in Martins Ferry. He added that ODNR is monitoring the situation through “Consistent communications with AMS and the lessor of the building, and frequent site inspections by Division staff.”

Regarding potential next steps at the site and whether the company was able to meet the court-ordered deadline, Chow responded that “ODNR cannot comment on ongoing litigation.”


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