WESTLEY, Calif. (April 24, 2000) —California´s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against businesses associated with the huge Filbin tire pile, seeking damages that could run to more than $20 million for a fire there last fall.
The lawsuit, filed April 4 in Stanislaus County Superior Court, names three individuals and eight other entities related to a tire fire at the waste-to-energy operation on the property in Westley.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer called the tire fire an "inferno" that left behind pollution that contaminated the soil and threatens area ground water.
"We want the landowners, waste tire haulers and waste-to-energy operators to be responsible for cleaning up the mess, removing waste tires and ensuring we don´t have another calamity," Mr. Lockyer said.
The fire broke out after a lightning strike Sept. 22 in what had been called the West´s largest tire pile, containing an estimated 7 million tires.
Officials initially decreed that the fire would be allowed to burn itself out, but after residents throughout California´s Central Valley complained of the choking black smoke, the state hired a team of industrial firefighters who managed to snuff the flames after 34 days.
The attorney general filed the lawsuit on behalf of the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), the Air Resources Board, the Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Department of Fish and Game. The lawsuit names Mark Kirkland, operator of the tire pile and several related businesses until he went bankrupt in 1998, and Ed and Mary Filbin, owners of the land beneath the pile.
It also names an array of businesses owned by Mr. Kirkland and the Filbins, plus tire-fueled generating plant operator Modesto Energy Limited Partners.
The lawsuit seeks penalties, restitution and court orders for the cleanup, abatement and removal of residue resulting from the fire. It seeks penalties of up to $3.7 million, plus $12,500 per day until the cleanup and abatement orders are met.
It also seeks $1.3 million to reimburse the cost of removing oversize tires; $500,000 to reimburse the cost of winterizing the site; $15,000 per day for failure to comply with cleanup orders; $2,500 per day for failure to comply with a waste permit; a return of the site to its natural, pre-pile state; and restitution of profits earned wrongfully.
Damages in the case could exceed $20 million, Mr. Lockyer said. The lawsuit puzzles Mr. Kirkland, he said, since he was bankrupted and out of the picture long before the fire.
"Twice I offered the (CIWMB) plans that would have had all those tires removed long ago, but they didn´t want that," he said. "Instead, they kept making demands on me for money for insurance and bonds to the extent that I was bankrupt and unable to pay any more."
Mr. Filbin could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer did not return telephone calls.