By Stephen Seitz
RUTLAND—A Superior Court judge in Rutland Superior Court ordered Rutland real estate developer John Ruggiero to pay the state of Vermont more than $2.1 million to settle a brownfield lawsuit in a civil trial held on Sept. 25.
Ruggiero, a former attorney who represented himself, told the court he would have a hard time paying up.
“I don’t have the ability to bond,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to pay. I hate to agree to an obligation I can’t fulfill.”
The case stems from a brownfield cleanup at 84 Woodstock Avenue in Rutland. Ruggiero had purchased what had been the Fillipo Dry Cleaners at a tax sale in 2006, and then demolished the property, but he never built anything on it. The site
contained a large concentration of a dry cleaning solvent and carcinogen called PCE, and exposure to the elements allowed the PCE to flow out of the site to homes in the area.
Matthew Becker, an environmental geologist with the Agency of Natural Resources, supervised the cleanup. He testified first hearing about the brownfield in 2008.
“We felt the migration of the PCE threatened human health,” Becker said, “The PCE could cause indoor air hazards.”
The solution: a permeable reactive barrier (PRB), which is essentially a large filter designed to keep any remaining PCE from leaking once contaminated soil was removed. Ruggiero was asked to pay $40,325 toward the cleanup, but never did.
According to Becker, that allowed the situation to get worse, and a much wider PRB was needed.
When he got his turn, Ruggiero wanted to know if there was any way to reinstate the $40,000 figure.
“They were supposed to build a Honda, and they built a Bentley,” he said.
Judge Samuel Hoar, Jr. said no.
“If the agency takes over, and it did, it has to prove the costs were reasonable and necessary,” he said.
Becker said that the larger filter became necessary over time.
“After 2010, when the defendant’s plan wasn’t implemented, the flow had changed significantly,” Becker said. “We had to have a crane on site to keep the hole from filling in.”
The state, represented by Justin Kolber of the Attorney General’s office, asked for reimbursement of costs multiplied by three times, and to have Ruggiero held personally liable. This included paying roughly $15,000 a year in future monitoring of the site, which goes for another 28 years.
Hoar balked at that.
“The Court does find that monitoring going forward for 28 years doesn’t take factors like inflation and discounts into account. I’d need to sit down with an economist to be able to make a determination,” he said.
Instead, Hoar suggested that Ruggiero pay for five years of monitoring, capped at $15,000 and subject to inflation as determined by the Consumer Price Index, to which Kolber agreed.
Hoar awarded the triple damages asked for by the State, which brought the total to $2,148,366.
“It’s a sizable award,” Kolber said later. “Collection will be a different proceeding,”
Ruggiero left the building before being asked for comment.