Attorney General Charity Clark today announced a $2,350,733 settlement with the estate of a former owner of a dry cleaner site, resolving over a decade of litigation with the State. The settlement resolves claims brought by the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for remediation of hazardous materials emanating from a former dry cleaner site at 7 Union Street in Hartford, Vermont.
“Our primary responsibility is to ensure that hazardous materials and environmental contamination are cleaned up in order to protect the environment and public health,” said Attorney General Clark. “This settlement agreement ensures that the necessary remediation will be completed by the Agency of Natural Resources and that the responsible party will bear the cost.”
This case has a long history. The Attorney General’s Office first filed suit in 2010 against former and current owners of the property under Vermont’s hazardous materials liability law. The property had been operated as a dry cleaner from approximately 1977 to 1995, first by Paul and Sandra Gendron and then by Harold and Peggy Fournier. Richard Daniels then bought the property at a tax sale in 1995 for under $3,000, and subsequently transferred it to Hazen Street Holdings, Inc. in 2006.
Tetrachloroethene (also known as perchloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, and commonly known as PCE or PERC), a hazardous chemical that was used in dry cleaning businesses at the time, had contaminated the site and neighboring properties, including soils and the indoor air of residences surrounding the property. ANR conducted initial sampling of the area in 2006 and installed sub-slab depressurization systems in eight homes to divert soil gas vapors away from the indoor air to the outside.
In 2014, the court issued a ruling that Mr. Daniels was the current owner of the property for liability purposes because he had created the asset-free Hazen Street Holdings to avoid liability for the site and the corporation had independence from Mr. Daniels in name only (also known as “piercing the corporate veil”). With liability established, the case went to trial in 2017 to determine the appropriate relief. In Apil 2018, the court awarded the State some of its past costs and issued an order requiring Mr. Daniels to perform site investigation and corrective actions to remediate PERC at the site, which was upheld by the Vermont Supreme Court in March of 2019. Mr. Daniels started the required investigation but did not complete it or the corrective actions before his death in 2021. The State then pursued post-judgment proceedings in both Vermont and New Hampshire to ensure the necessary work would be completed, resulting in this settlement.
Under this final settlement, ANR will use funds to further investigate the nature and extent of contamination arising from 7 Union Street, mitigate exposure, assess appropriate remedial measures, implement corrective action, and determine long-term monitoring and maintenance measures for affected properties. The property owners have also granted easements for environmental restrictions and site access to ensure safety at the site and a neighboring property going forward.
ANR’s Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Batchelder said in response to the settlement, “We are thrilled with the final resolution of this case. ANR is dedicated to expeditiously moving forward with the final work necessary to address contaminant issues originating from 7 Union Street and, more specifically, is focused on remediating contamination impacting surrounding homeowners.” ANR recognizes that this has been a long process for the surrounding community and anticipates hosting future public meetings to address questions and concerns for upcoming investigation and remedial activities associated with the site. ANR will also be reaching out to impacted homeowners regarding next steps.
The State previously settled with the Fournier defendants for $100,000.
A copy of the settlement, finalized at the end of December, is available here. The State also filed a Partial Satisfaction of Judgment in Vermont Superior Court, available here. This certifies that the April 2018 judgment has been partially satisfied. There are ongoing obligations to cooperate with ANR and allow access to the site.
CONTACT: Lauren Jandl, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171