There is much to be said for checks and balances in government, especially when it comes to holding government accountable for wrongdoing. A recent case in point was the municipal government of Oakridge, Oregon. Last spring, the city purchased a piece of property with old mobile homes located on it. Their assurance that the property had no hazardous materials on it consisted of a signed statement from the seller. Oakridge City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman admitted that the city was wrong and naive in acting on the statement without confirming the absence of toxic materials before demolition of the mobile homes and other structures on the land was carried out. Failure to conduct a proper survey will ultimately cost the taxpayers of Oakridge nearly $10,000 in fines. The fines were assessed by the Lane (County) Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), and include $2400 for failing to carry out the initial inspection; $3600 for allowing uncertified contractors to engage in an asbestos abatement project; and $3600 for “open accumulation and storage of asbestos-containing waste material at an unauthorized waste disposal site.”
The city must either pay the fine or appeal the decision by 5 October 2007. Zimmerman has indicated that he will recommend that the city appeal and apply a portion of the fine toward a project designed to assist low-income residents in upgrading their inefficient woodstoves, which are a major contributor to air pollution. The property in question, a one-acre lot, had long been a source of complaints from local residents. It contained two run-down mobile homes, old chicken coops and miscellaneous debris, creating an eyesore that Zimmerman compared to “the Appalachian South.” Three days after the city took over the property in the spring of 2007, LRAPA received a complaint over asbestos and open fires burning on the property. Investigations and subsequent testing revealed the presence of asbestos fibers, which are commonly found in materials used to construct mobile homes. Since then, the city of Oakridge has paid out $17,000 to have asbestos waste contained and other debris disposed of in a proper manner.