Martins Ferry City Council pushes ODNR to clean up waste at Austin Master facility

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Austin Master Services
The waste at the Austin Master Services facility in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on May 13, 2024. (Submitted photo taken by CORR)

MARTINS FERRY, Ohio — Martins Ferry City Council wants the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to clean up tons of illegal, radioactive fracking waste at the Austin Master Services wastewater treatment facility after the company failed to do so. They signed a petition created by the Concerned Ohio River Valley Residents at the council’s last meeting on June 5.

Austin Master, a Pennsylvania-based wastewater treatment company, was ordered to suspend operations at its facility in Martins Ferry in March after ODNR discovered the company had exceeded its permit for brine waste.

Flooding has since occurred at the site, heightening concerns that the waste could leach out into nearby water sources. Most recently, a contempt hearing was held against the company in May after it failed to clean up the waste within a court-ordered deadline.

“We’re kinda at (the state’s) mercy,” said Martins Ferry Mayor John Davies. “The waste could contaminate the whole Ohio Valley and south of us, because if we have a major flood that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.”

The petition

This spring, officials reported the facility was storing 10,000 tons of solid and liquid waste; the company was permitted to treat and store 600 tons. Waste was also being improperly stored in dumpsters and sludge and liquid waste was on the floors.

The facility is located 500 feet away from the Ohio River and 1,000 feet away from the City of Martin Ferry’s drinking field, posing a serious threat to local and regional water sources.

Austin Master Services
The waste and equipment at Austin Master Services in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on May 13, 2024. (Submitted photo taken by CORR)

In the petition, CORR ask ODNR not to approve any more permits for oil and gas waste storage in the area and to arrange a clean-up and environmental monitoring of the site immediately.

So far the petition has 66 signatures. It also describes the waste as an immediate threat with its proximity to water sources and location in a flood plain.

Martins Ferry City Council previously wrote a letter to ODNR in May asking for Austin Master to be removed from the facility and for the facility not to be re-permitted. They also sent the letter to state and federal officials.

Yet since then, Davies has seen little to no work done to remove the waste. The petition is another attempt by the council to push for a swift removal.

Bankrupt

Since Austin Master was ordered to suspend operations, a lawsuit was filed in the Belmont County Common Pleas Court by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in March and the company was ordered to clean up the waste within 14 days; the company did not clean it up.

Most recently, a contempt hearing was held on May 20 and 21 against the state and Austin Master where the state addressed the company’s failure to remove the waste within the deadline.

So far, two railcars filled with waste have been removed by a third party, employees cleaned liquid waste from the floors and a tank of liquid waste was removed by a brine hauler.

Austin Master Services
The waste at Austin Master Services facility in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on May 13, 2024. (Submitted photo taken by CORR)

During the hearing, Austin Master argued that American Environmental Partners Inc. — the parent company of Austin Master — and CEO, Chief Financial Officer and Chairman of American Environmental Partners Inc., Brad J. Domitrovitsch, should not be held liable for the failure to clean up.

The company also has no money. Shortly after the company suspended operations, it laid off all of its employees; Domitrovitsch is the only employee left.

Belmont County Judge John Valvra ruled that both Austin Master and Domitrovitsch were responsible for the failure to clean up. He gave the company until July 22 to come into compliance with its permit or else Domitrovitsch will serve 30 days in jail and the company will be fined $200 a day.

Davies doesn’t think the company will clean up the waste. “When they said they don’t have money to clean it up, what are you waiting for? They’re not gonna get the money. They’re out of business pretty much,” Davies said.

He believes Austin Master and ODNR are looking for a buyer to clean up the waste. However, city officials and residents alike do not want the facility to be re-permitted. Davies wants the regulatory agency responsible for oversight, in this case ODNR, to clean up the waste.

Karina Cheung, a spokesperson for ODNR, said “Austin Master Services is still responsible for cleaning up the waste. We expect to AMS to fulfill their legal obligation and clean the site. However, if they fail to do so, we stand ready to take action.”

They added “We are closely monitoring the facility and know that the waste has not left the facility. The legal proceedings are ongoing; therefore, we cannot comment on future permitting at this time.”

(Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 330-337-3419.)

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