Martinsville, Ind., Files Lawsuit over Water-Cleanup Costs
Dec. 9MARTINSVILLE, Ind. City officials want to install a filter to protect the municipal water supply, which faces contamination from a chemical suspected of causing cancer.
However, representatives for Masterwear Corp., the industrial dry-cleaning company accused of releasing the chemical into the soil more than a decade ago, is balking at the city's request to pay for the filter, which is estimated to add at least $600,000 to the cleanup cost.
To turn up the heat, the city filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis to recoup all expenses required to clean the water supply.
"We will continue to negotiate in the hope that we don't have to go to trial," Martinsville City Attorney Rod Bray said Wednesday, "as long as it can be settled on our terms."
Defendants in the lawsuit are Masterwear Corp.; James A. Reed and his wife, Linda Lou Mull Reed, the owners of Masterwear; and William J. Cure and Elizabeth J. Cure, former owners of the downtown Martinsville building where Masterwear operated from 1986 to 1992.
Attorneys for the Reeds and Cures weren't surprised by Tuesday's filing but had little to say about it. Masterwear's insurance carrier has agreed to pay for the cleanup.
"We have talked with city employees and will continue to do so to get this resolved," said Frank Deveau, the Cures' attorney.
City, state and federal officials believe Masterwear contaminated soil behind its plant with perchloroethylene (PCE). Masterwear used the solvent to clean oil from gloves and towels used by industries.
State inspectors believe drums of PCE-contaminated oils and other chemicals stacked on bare ground behind the building rusted and leaked. Over time, the chemical soaked into the soil, where groundwater carried it more than a mile to the city's wells.
The wells, on the city's northside, provide drinking water for about 12,000 residents. One well was so contaminated that it was shut down in December 2002.
Since the shutdown, the city has issued numerous boil orders and nearly ran out of water this past summer. Two other wells remain in use.
Bray said the city wants to install a filter at the contaminated well by January. The federal lawsuit will push for an immediate hearing seeking an order to require the defendants to pay for it.
City officials said they are prepared to pay for the filter, if necessary, and recoup that expense from the defendants.
Meanwhile, two teams from Astbury Environmental Engineering continue to clean PCE from the soil and water and PCE vapors out of nearby businesses.
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© 2004, The Indianapolis Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.