Barrington Hills group adds fuel to auto auction battle
Three environmental issues that Insurance Auto Auctions settled in recent years elsewhere have given a Barrington Hills-based citizens group renewed vigor against the company's plans to build in neighboring East Dundee.
The company, which sells totaled vehicles to the highest bidder, wants to build a 12,000-square-foot building and 34 acres of outdoor storage in a reclaimed gravel pit north of Route 72 at Commonwealth Drive.
The property backs up to Barrington Hills' Pond Gate Farms, and local residents formed the Northwest Suburban Citizens for Clean Water to fight the auto auction's plan. The group fears leaking fluids from vehicles will run into the groundwater.
According to Carteret, N.J., Mayor Daniel Reiman, the company and a property owner settled a 2011 lawsuit in October that the borough brought to force the cleanup of a 23-acre impoundment lot the company operated for a separate owner.
Although the suit accused the defendants of violating state pollution laws by discharging oil and other hazardous substances into stormwater runoff, the allegations were never proven, Reiman said.
"This was a preventive measure," Reiman said of the suit. "We needed to ensure we didn't run the risk of any of the fluids making their way into my stormwater system and, obviously, into the ground."
The defendants agreed to pay $350,000 for site improvements and $150,000 for the borough's enforcement costs and related fees.
In 2009, the auto auction paid a $4,928 fine to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for violating a condition of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, according to Courtney Brown, an environmental law specialist in that state's office of compliance and enforcement.
According to documents, between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008, the company failed to take four sets of water samples at a Portland site to ensure its discharges met water quality benchmarks.
The auto auction collected one sample in December 2007 and it showed the company exceeded thresholds for copper, zinc and phosphorous concentrations, documents said. It was to investigate the cause of the elevated readings, review its stormwater pollution control plan and submit an action plan for approval, which was not done, according to state documents.
The auto auction was also fined $5,216 in a separate 2007 case at the same Portland site for failing to collect and analyze one of two grab samples, Brown said.
In late November, the company mailed a cease and desist letter to the citizens group that urged them to stop spreading "false and misleading information" about the auto auction and its environmental practices.
"Everything that Northwest Suburban Citizens for Clean Water said was within its rights to state as concerned citizens on a public issue," said attorney Phillip Zisook, who represents the group.
Jeanene O'Brien, an auto auction spokeswoman, said the company denied the allegations in New Jersey and that no evidence ever surfaced to support them.
While the company did not admit liability, it agreed on the settlement in the best interest of the community and the parties involved, she said.
IAA settled the violations in Portland by paying fines.
"There was no legal action involved and subsequently the sample collection procedure has been adjusted and there have been no issues since," O'Brien said via email.
"You could probably select any organization that has many locations and find things that you can point to that should have gone better," East Dundee Village President Jerald Bartels said. "It doesn't matter what the industry."
Trustee Rob Gorman is most concerned about how the site in East Dundee would be monitored.
"Obviously, we put some level of trust into IAA running their operation correctly," Gorman said. "But at the end, we're going to be designing this in a way that whether IAA makes some errors or not, the water will still be protected."
The village board is expected to address the auto auction's proposal early next year.