Owners face lawsuit: Company told multiple times to clean lagoons


The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is suing the owners of a former paper mill in Ewing to try to force the cleanup of lagoons holding waste leftover from the paper-making process.

In a lawsuit recently filed in Jackson Superior Court I, the state agency wants to enforce the cleanup at Unicell Paper Mills Indiana Inc. at 1220 W. Spring St. in Brownstown, the former site of Kieffer Paper Mills. The plant had operated as Kieffer Paper Mills from 1908 until its closure in the late 1990s.

Unicell purchased the 32.72-acre site on the town’s west side Oct. 20, 2003, for $550,000 with plans to invest $36 million into the plant and hire 70 workers by 2006.

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Those plans, however, never materialized, and in the summer and fall of 2013, the equipment was sold at auction, and the buildings were demolished. The concrete floors of the buildings still remain.

The owners of the property, based out of Heathrow, Florida, were first told by IDEM that they were responsible for cleaning the lagoons in February 2014. That was following the company’s notification in July 2013 that the plant had not been in operation for years and there were no longer plans to make it operational.

Calls to Unicell were not answered about the lawsuit, and Jennifer Reno, environmental manager overseeing the case, did not respond to questions about the lawsuit, either.

The Tribune reviewed documents pertaining to the case provided by Brady Hagerty, IDEM digital media manager.

Brownstown Town Council President Sally Lawson said she was aware of the lawsuit but did not know much beyond the fact it had been filed. She said she was hopeful the matter would be resolved soon.

“The town hopes to see the site cleaned up as soon as it can be done,” she said, adding she had not been made aware of arrangements made by the company to clean the site.

The owners were responsible for removing solid waste in the three lagoons and clarifier, part of a wastewater treatment plant to protect the public and environment and prevent an open dump, according to an IDEM order.

In April 2016, owners were notified of violations and again ordered to clean up the site. That order was answered, and IDEM officials met with owners a month later in an attempt to resolve the matter through the agreed order.

The owners never entered the agreed order, and in March 2017, IDEM officials issued violations of the Indiana Environmental Act that again set out details for cleanup.

Those violations included a fine of $22,500, which IDEM said hasn’t been collected.

It’s unclear what the lagoons and clarifiers contain. The lagoons, which are located off of a gravel path on the far south end of the site, sometimes emit odor, and two of the lagoons have a murky brown color.

Guidelines provided by IDEM require the company to complete a clean closure or in-place closure plan.

A clean closure involves the total removal of all waste residues and contaminated subsurface media. The in-place closure option allows leaving waste residues within the impoundment and developing a plan designed to contain, control and monitor the area as a land disposal unit to protect public health and the environment.

Those guidelines are outlined in the order issued to the company and require a sampling analysis plan and a laboratory quality assurance project plan be developed and provided for closure. The plan must be approved by IDEM.

In October 1971, Kieffer Paper Mills used a lagoon to hold sludge and other fibers in a cycled water process. At that time, the company installed a wastewater treatment plant so water used in the paper-making process could be reused. Water treated at the plant and not reused was sent to the East Fork White River. The sludge and other fibers were placed in the lagoons.

In early 1994, the company spent about $2 million to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. At that time, the company received a permit to operate the plant and discharge treated wastewater into the river. A fiber scalper was added to reduce more fibers and waste during the treatment process.

At that time, the company also obtained a permit to land apply the sludge to farm fields reducing the amount of sludge taken to a landfill.

When Unicell purchased, company officials talked about tearing down the original mill, upgrading a waste paper recycling mill added in the 1990s and producing more than 120 tons of high-grade pulp for facial tissue, napkins and paper towels by the first quarter of 2005.

The company paid $211,332.01 in delinquent property taxes in 2012. The company also worked out an agreement with the Jackson County Council in 2008 to pay $110,348.58. The agreement also included hiring workers by August 2009, more plans that never materialized.

A hearing date has not yet been set.

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