Oregon Developer Told to Pay $1.6M in Asbestos Case

November 2, 2012

A developer whose plans to redevelop a sawmill in Sweet Home, Ore., collapsed has pleaded guilty to accusations that he allowed an unlicensed contractor to demolish a building, releasing asbestos near residential neighborhoods.

After the work, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site and spent $1.6 million cleaning up more than 4 million pounds of the cancer-causing material.

In a plea deal, Dan Desler was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to pay restitution for the cleanup.

The Albany Democrat-Herald reported that Desler was managing trustee of a trust that was given the former Willamette Industries site, long in disuse.

There were plans to develop 400 to 600 acres with upscale housing and a complex for artists, hunters and anglers, and then for moderately priced housing. None came to fruition.

The sentence also includes three years of probation for the 68-year-old businessman and 300 hours of community service.

The sawmill property included several buildings in various stages of disrepair.

In 2004, a fire believed started by a transient struck several buildings. Firefighters told state regulators of debris that appeared to contain asbestos, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality told Desler about the asbestos. He hired a licensed contractor to abate the asbestos, but work was not completed in any of the undamaged buildings.

Three years later, Desler hired an unlicensed contractor, who over eight months tore down, crushed and even chipped asbestos-containing materials.

The site is near a residential area and large piles of asbestos-containing materials were left uncovered.

U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said in a sentencing memorandum that the developer “took short cuts that resulted in copious amounts of asbestos being released and contaminating not only the facility but the surrounding neighborhoods.”

In December 2010, Linn County foreclosed on the property in lieu of more than $505,000 in back taxes dating to 2004.

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