COLUMBUS - The Ohio Attorney General's Office is using a secrecy provision to try to get more details about ownership of the Envirosafe hazardous waste landfill in Oregon.
Yesterday, the state sent an "investigative demand" letter to the attorney representing Envirosafe Services of Ohio Inc., asking for documents and financial statements about its corporate structure and records on Envirosafe's net worth back to 2001.
State officials have tried for four years to pinpoint the ownership of the Envirosafe landfill. An attorney representing Envirosafe has said the state has all the information it needs.
Michelle Gatchell, a spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro, said information provided by Envirosafe in response to the "investigative demand" would not be available to citizens under the state public records law.
She said the attorney general's office wants information that Envirosafe has said is "confidential."
"As an attempt to do a thorough investigation, we decided it would be better to do an investigative demand so we can use that information to protect their confidentiality but make sure we get the information to help us make that decision," Ms. Gatchell said.
But Judy Junga, a Toledo resident and an Envirosafe watchdog who for years has pushed state officials to better monitor the Oregon landfill, questioned use of a secrecy provision.
"The state should have written laws that would make all of these people visible to all of us. The laws of the state are not written to protect the people's interest, certainly not in this case," she said.
Ms. Gatchell said if Envirosafe provides information that leads to more disclosure about the landfill's owner, the public would have access to it and to a report from the attorney general's office.
Richard Sargeant, an attorney with Eastman & Smith which represents Envirosafe, said he didn't know how much of the information that the state wants under the investigative demand is available. "We will produce the information in our control and possession," he said.
In 2001, Envirosource Inc., the Pennsylvania parent company of Envirosafe, which operates the landfill, merged with ES Acquisition Corp.
State officials determined that ES Acquisition is a wholly owned subsidiary of GSC Recovery II, L.P., which in turn is a subsidiary of GSC Partners of Florham Park, N.J.
In August, 2003, Gary Taylor, supervisor of the attorney general's environmental background investigation unit, wrote that 14 of GSC Partners' 15 officers had failed to provide background information and fingerprints to the state by a Jan. 12, 2001, deadline.
The background investigation is to ensure that owners and operators have the competence, reliability, and expertise to operate a hazardous waste landfill, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Sargeant asked the attorney general's office in April, 2003, to waive the background investigation of GSC partners, saying it's not involved in managing the hazardous waste landfill.
"GSC [Partners] manages funds; they don't operate companies," Mr. Sargeant said in a recent interview.
Even if the officers of GSC Partners disclosed their backgrounds and provided fingerprints, it would have no bearing on Envirosafe's permits, Mr. Sargeant said. Under state law, those who have committed any of 21 crimes - from murder to securities fraud - can be barred from owning landfills, but not those who hold an "equity interest or debt liability," he said.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has said it won't act on a request by Envirosafe to expand its only active waste pit until the attorney general's office has decided whether to waive the request for background information on GSC Partners.
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