School trust, EPA settle cleanup at defunct explosives factory
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Utah Deparment of Environmental cleanup
LEHI — Emergency cleanup of dangerous blasting agents at a now-defunct explosives plant in Utah County has been completed, and the Environmental Protection Agency wants its check from the property's owner.
The material was once stored in a pair of 20,000-gallon tanks at the Cook Lehi plant and chemical agents like it have been used in bombs for domestic terrorist attacks, including at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The EPA completed remediation at the site, which occupied 480 acres of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands property leased by Cook Slurry Company, owned by Merrill Cook and operated from 1979 to 1999.
Cook, a former two-term Republican congressman from Utah, blamed the demise of the plant on declining gold prices, an interruption in his business supply chain and his tenure in Congress, which he said required his resignation as an officer or director of the company.
In a Tuesday agreement reached in U.S. District Court in Utah, the EPA agreed to allow the school trust lands administration to settle its bill with the federal agency for $316,000, in contrast to $672,000 initially sought as payment.
Dave Hebertson, school trust lands administration spokesman, said the EPA wanted reimbursement for cleanup expenses at the site logged in 2009 because SITLA is the owner of the property. SITLA, in turn, has filed an action in state district court seeking payment from Cook.
The cleanup, according to court documents, involved the removal of 110 55-gallon drums containing an explosive slurry, some of which had deteriorated and leaked. One larger tank had been corroded with leftover ammonium nitrate salt and some cardboard boxes had remnants of explosive boosters used in place of dynamite.
In addition to diesel fuel, EPA inspectors found a combustible, thick yellow liquid.
The combination of materials on the site was deemed a public health hazard because of the risk of a "massive explosion" and the possible release of toxins into the environment.
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