MILTON-FREEWATER – A longtime businessman here has appealed a recent fine of $57,282 by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Equality.
Sam Humbert was issued a finding for establishing a solid waste disposal site without a permit, officials said in a letter sent out Sept. 1. Humbert appealed the finding on Sept. 22.
The illegal dump is located off Eastside Road and was started in 2019, DEQ spokeswoman Laura Gleim said this week.
Humbert reported the operation to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that same year, and that agency shared the information with the DEQ. An investigation revealed discarded wind turbine blades – with an overall measurement of about 2,741 cubic yards – had been placed on the private property and were adjacent to wetlands.
Humbert had not been issued the necessary solid waste disposal site permit from the state for that purpose, according to legal documents.
The law was not broken on purpose, Cindy Granger said Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Granger is the daughter of Sam Humbert and was speaking on behalf of the windmill recycling operation on her father’s land.
“There was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding with everyone involved,” she said.
The intention was to take the blades from decommissioned wind machines, of which a multitude march across the hills in Umatilla and many other Oregon counties.
Land-based wind turbines have been increasing in manufactured size in the last 20 years, to an average of 295 feet – about the height of the Statue of Liberty, according to the federal office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
The blades can measure 115-165 feet long.
Sam Humbert has been recycling the copper and iron elements found in the blade metal. The remaining parts have been going to permitted landfills in Athena and Boardman, Oregon, Granger said.
However, the mistake was made in not realizing the Eastside property is only permitted for “clean fill,” such as old concrete, and that the giant blades did not fit the designation, Granger said.
As soon as Humbert received notice of the issue, steps were taken to clean up the site, and that work is continuing.
“We want to get it done and do it properly,” Granger said.
Included in the civil penalty fine is $30,882, representing the money earned from selling the copper and iron part of the windmill blades, Gleim said.
That number can be recalculated once the property is cleaned and in compliance with state regulations.
Humbert’s citation also includes having solid waste next to a natural spring on the property, but no financial consequence was attached to that, Gleim added.
Although more than $57,000 seems hefty, some DEQ fines can reach more than $1 million, depending on the violation and if it is a repeated offense, she said.
Granger said it has been gratifying to work with the environmental regulatory agency, and the family expects to have the cleanup work accomplished by the end of January.
The Humbert family is done working with windmills, she added.
“This was a learning experience.”
They do expect to pay a fine, as the metal was put in an landfill without a permit, however unintentionally, Granger said.
The bigger question in the air is what will become of every enormous wind machine when they cease to function, Granger said.
“There’s not a good answer for windmill disposal yet. They take up a lot of air space in a landfill, which is important … once it’s full, what are you going to do?”
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