A Word from a Neighbor
I can’t imagine what I would do — or, more to the point, demand — if my little square of land turned out to be contaminated. My family would probably be moving into somebody’s basement while we tried to figure out how to either save the property or extricate ourselves from ownership of it. Folks right down the hill from me have been facing just this situation for several years, now, so it’s not merely hypothetical, but as the legal bills flow out of the attempt to force a company to pay for the clean up, the efficacy, as well as the principle, of doing so is becoming a serious question:
The battle over a contaminated Tiverton neighborhood and the cost of cleaning it up moved to the Rhode Island State House last night, where it was revealed that the tab for a Washington, D.C., law firm representing the state has risen to $777,000 — and climbing. …
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental has traced the contamination to the former Fall River Gas Co., which allegedly dumped waste material in the area in the early 1900s. The company later became part of New England Gas, which was in turn purchased by Southern Union, a big utility company based in Houston, Texas. …
Sutherland Asbill, which billed $355,000 in January and February, as previously reported, billed the state another $322,000 for March and April. Noting that the state has yet to receive the firm’s bills for May and June, Alves noted that the bills have been piling up at the rate of $200,000 a month and have likely already reached the $1 million range — with no clear end in sight.
Each month’s bill is, by itself, over three times the $60,000 that the DEM was authorized to spend. Clearly, somebody in the line of command is under the impression that victory is certain, but American governmental types’ recent transformation into big-wallet-seeking plaintiffs may be crossing into poorly considered territory.
Scarcely a Rhode Islander, no doubt, is not sympathetic to the plight of the affected families, and calls for some sort of well-defined fund to help them would likely draw impressive response; I’d probably contribute to a rattled cup, and if the state weren’t on the verge of financial collapse, some of its resources would more readily be available to help. Attempting to enforce modern environmental standards on a company that bought a company that bought a company that violated those standards one hundred years ago, however, may be a no-victory endeavor.
If the state loses the legal battle, nobody has benefited but the lawyers; if it wins, a dubious precedent would have been set. Perhaps we’d be better off ensuring that all environmental regulations are updated to account for our more advanced scientific understanding and then turning our attention to lightening the burden of our darker past, rather than seeking live people in another part of the country to pay for the mistakes of our deceased neighbors.