WILMINGTON — A class action complaint with “jury trial demanded” was filed in Clinton County Common Pleas Court Monday against R+L Carriers and “John Does 1-2” of CT Corporation System (with the same Columbus address as R+L) over the recent spill of an estimated 23,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The plaintiff is Zackory Adams of 1565 Gurneyville Road, Wilmington, according to the court’s website.
The attorneys for the plaintiff are: Joseph M. Lyon with The Lyon Firm, a Cincinnati-based firm “representing individuals nationwide in product liability and class action litigation,” according to the firm’s website; and Charles M. Rittgers of Rittgers & Rittgers, based in Lebanon and with other offices, including in Cincinnati.
The lawsuit states:
“1. The action arises from R&L’s failure to properly design, operate and secure its storage fuel tanks allowing the release of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel into the surrounding environment.
“2. The negligent and reckless release of the fuel has caused significant harm to the surrounding environment and the properties adjoining Dutch Creek and other connected waterways. As a result of the contamination, Plaintiff and the other similarly situated property owners impacted by the diesel contamination (“Class Members”) have sustained damages due to the contamination of their property with diesel fuel. Diesel fuel contains numerous hazardous chemical organic compounds, including Benzene, a highly flammable and well recognized carcinogen. The diesel fuel and its organic compounds will be collectively referred to as “hazardous material.”
“3. The damage to the properties from the contamination has directly caused Plaintiff and Class Members a loss of use and enjoyment of their property, loss of time, likely future remediation costs, diminution of value of the property, and emotional distress.
“4. Plaintiff brings this Class Action against Defendants to seek compensatory and punitive damages for Plaintiff and the class of property owners and residents impacted by the contamination, as well as equitable and injunctive relief.”
The suit states that Adams owns 7 acres of property adjoining Dutch Creek.
“Plaintiff Adams is suing individually and on behalf of all property owners and residents impacted by the environmental contamination in the Dutch Creek waterway,” the suit continues. “Plaintiff and each of the Class Members had a legal right or interest as an owner and/or resident of the property that was invaded and contaminated.”
It continues, “Defendant John Does 1-2 are subsidiary companies, agents, employees, independent contractors, consultants or venders who were responsible for the safe design, maintenance, and operation of the gas containers that failed and contributed to the environmental contamination. The names and addresses of these defendants are undiscoverable at this time.”
Among the relief sought by the lawsuit are an award of actual damages, compensatory damages, statutory damages, and statutory penalties, in an amount to be determined, an award of punitive damages, as allowable by law, n award of attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other expenses, including expert witness fees;
The diesel fuel spilled from an R+L Carriers 1-million gallon tank on Gillam Road two weekends ago after workers failed to secure some bolts after cleaning and then refilling the tank, an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said at a news conference March 8.
EPA On-Scene Coordinator Steve Renninger, based in Cincinnati, told reporters that this is considered a “medium spill” due to over 10,000 gallons being released inland, and the spill containment area is about 3.5 miles of Dutch Creek, in Liberty Township.
He said they feel a large percentage of the spill has been contained within the remediation/containment area, but there is much left to vacuum and pump out.
The tank is about a quarter-mile from Dutch Creek.
“Oil sheen” — a lighter, diluted oil which in non-recoverable and floats on the surface — spread as far as the Little Miami River in Morrow, partly due to the heavy rains Monday of last week.
Dutch Creek flows to Todd’s Fork, which goes into to the Little Miami River. Agencies responsible for downwater intakes are “well aware of the spill” and are monitoring and sampling the water, Renninger said, adding that his belief is that the downwater drinking water is safe for the public.
Initially it was feared that the spill was closer to 80,000 gallons, but that was later lowered.
“More than 2,000 fish, frogs, and crayfish were killed” by the spill, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife spokesperson told the News Journal last week, with other reports of dead muskrats and ducks.
There were seven different contractors working across the clock and eight areas within the containment zone.
R+L Carriers has been “very cooperative” with authorities and has agreed to fund the entire cleanup, Renninger said last week.
Area residents initially notified the Wilmington Fire Department of the smell of fuel a week ago Saturday, said Clinton County EMA Director Thomas Breckel, and that began a chain of rapid communications between dispatchers and fire departments, among others.
Renniger said R+L notified the National Response Center of the spill on Saturday evening, and the response center notified local, state and federal agencies. The Clinton County EMA put out a public notice of the spill and alerted the media.
Although there has been no known public statement or contact with local residents from R+L Carriers, Renninger said the authorities have been in contact with R+L Carriers 3-6 hours per day.
Matt Johannes of the Clinton County Health District said most homes in the spill area are hooked up to public water and drinking water is safe. He advised that anyone with private water systems/wells may contact the Health District to have their water tested.
“Diesel is a lighter product that floats on water and is contained to the waterway. The likelihood of it making its way into area wells is low,” said Johannes of the Clinton County Health District last weekend. “The majority of the product is believed to be contained on the property and site of the release.”
Investigation by the Port William-Liberty Township Joint Fire District on Saturday identified the release at 600 Gillam Road, according to the EMA.
A unified command was established over the weekend between the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, Port William-Liberty Township Joint Fire District and Clinton County.
Also on scene Monday were the “U. S. EPA, Ohio EPA, U.S. Coast Guard personnel, and numerous contractors all who have worked endlessly over the last two-and-a-half days to establish containment,” according to the EMA.
A stretch of Gurneyville Road was closed after the spill, and it remains closed.
Renninger said the containment period will last “several more days” and, when asked if R+L will face any fines, stated that the emphasis for now remains containment.
Officials added that residents are best served to stay out of and avoid fishing in Dutch Creek, not only due to the water quality but due to heavy equipment and active remediation work being done.