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Outboard Marine Corp. v. Thomas

September 23, 1985


Appeal from the United States Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 85 C 3287 and 85 M 030 - Susan Getzendanner, Judge.

Author: Wood

BEFORE: BAUER and WOOD, Circuit Judges, and GRANT, Senior District Judge.*fn*

WOOD, Circuit Judge.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency ("the EPA") has determined that there are deposits of the notorious chemical polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs, in certain areas of Waukegan Harbor, Illinois and an adjacent industrial complex owned by Outboard Marine Corporation ("OMC"), and that the blame lies with OMC. As a hazardous waste site, this area ranks high on the National Priority List and is the number one priority site in the State of Illinois. Even though the PCBs were discovered almost ten years ago, to date little has been accomplished. This part of the controversy is concerned with the means chosen by the EPA to finally get started with remedial action.

Factual background

OMC manufactures outboard motors, lawn mowers, and industrial and turf care vehicles at its industrial complex in the Waukegan Harbor area and at other locations in the United States and abroad. In addition to the manufacturing plant, OMC's Waukegan Harbor complex houses its corporate headquarters, central data processing facilities, and engineering operations.*fn1 over two thousand people are employed at this site.

In 1976, the EPA announced that there were PCBs in the sediments at the bottom of Slip No. 3 and that OMC's operation was the source. Two years later the EPA brought suit against OMC, alleging that the PCBs in Slip No. 3 and in parts of OMC's North Property constituted a threat to the environment and seeking to compel OMC to remove the hazards. For the next seven years, the parties engaged in discovery which included samplings of OMC's complex and the harbor, and studies of the possible effects of PCBs. the EPA then moved to dismiss its case voluntarily. The district court, over OMC's objection, allowed the motion to dismiss without prejudice, but upon the condition that the EPA agree not to sue OMC except under the cost-recovery provisions of the Comprehensive environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq.*fn2

The EPA is now, as permitted under the dismissal, seeking to institute its own remedial action under section 104 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9604, with the opportunity to seek recovery for cleanup costs from the responsible parties under section 107 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9607. In January, 1985, representatives of the EPA and OMC met to discuss EPA access to the OMC complex for design work purposes. In particular, the EPA sought to conduct a "walk-through" of the exterior portions of OMC's property, survey the site, set markers, and collect twenty-three soil borings. the EPA labels these preliminary activities as Phase 1, and claims that access is not presently sought for the purpose of implementing the actual remedy.

To better understand what Phase 1 amounts to, some detailed examination is necessary. The so-called "walk-through" is not a Sunday afternoon stroll. It would involve about sixteen persons and seven automobiles. The surveying would involve about three persons and one van, and the soil borings would involve about seventeen persons and sixteen vehicles. The equipment would include truckmounted drill rigs, pickup trucks, vans, water trucks, automobiles, a waste hauler, a job trailer and possibly a bulldozer. Approximately 1,000 square feet of the parking lot would be needed to park the equipment. Survey monuments would be left in place to facilitate later construction. This EPA task force prepared to move in on OMC for a maximum of seventy days, a little over two months.

All of this is preliminary to the actual remedial operations which would involve dredging or excavating thousands of cubic yards of sediments from the harbor, north ditch and OMC parking lot, and transporting the material to the OMC Harbor front property for years of treatment in extensive lagoons and other facilities to be constructed by the EPA. Some of the remainder after treatment would be permanently housed in a fifteen-foot high "containment cell" to be built on and to occupy six acres of the OMC parking lot. It is estimated that the construction of these EPA facilities on OMC property would take three and one-half years. From oral argument it appears that the EPA, itself without the power of eminent domain, is not certain how it will proceed to gain access to accomplish its actual remedial construction. The EPA informed us that Congress is considering an amendment to grant the authority to enter for actual construction which it seems unsure about under the present statute. We need not reach that issue.

Access at this time, however, is sought only to do the necessary surveying, soil testing for weight-bearing, and design specification work in preparation for the actual construction. The EPA does not contend that an emergency exists at OMC. There is no imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or welfare or the environment because of an actual or threatened release of a hazardous substance. If there is an emergency, it is almost ten years old.

This background summary brings us to the legal issue of how EPA access for Phase 1 may be obtained, and what recourse OMC may have for the threatened EPA invasion of its private property.

Acquisition of Access by EPA

After negotiations with OMC failed to voluntarily provide EPA the access it wanted for its preconstruction purposes, the EPA applied ex parte to a United States magistrate for a warrant for entry and investigation under sections 104(a), 104(b), and 104(e) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9604(a),*fn3 (b),*fn4 and (e).*fn5 In the application for the warrant, among other things, the EPA informed the magistrate that PCBs existed at the site and that an onsite remedial response was necessary. The EPA stated it relied on section 104(e)(1) as most germane for its statutory right to enter the site to perform the field work necessary to prepare the ...

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