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Coachella Valley Waste Operator Ordered to Pay Millions for Torres Martinez Open Dumping

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Victory for Torres Martinez Collaborative

After four years of multi-agency legal efforts led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Kim Lawson, Lawson Enterprises and Torlaw Realty, Inc., have been ordered to pay up to $42.8 million in cleanup costs at the Torres Martinez Reservation, located in the Coachella Valley, outside Los Angeles, Calif.

Photo of:

The illegal dumpsite on the Torres-Martinez Reservation owned and operated by Kim Lawson

Aerial photo of Lawson Dumpsite

Aerial photo of Lawson Dumpsite
©2007 Google - Imagery ©2007 DigitalGlobe, Map data ©2007 NAVTEQ™

Fires from Lawson regularly affected the residents of the nearby trailer park.

Lawson Site after Clean Up

The judge's order has put an end to illegal disposal, such as this load of hazardous treated wood waste.

In a case filed July 2, 2003, Kim Lawson, Lawson Enterprises and Torlaw Realty, Inc., must also pay a $2,362,000 civil penalty to the United States - which equals $2,000 per day of violation.

The EPA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs initiated this action in May 2003, when they issued orders against Lawson and his businesses to cease the illegal operations. When Lawson refused to comply with agency orders, the United States initiated this court action. The case went to trial in December 2006.

This success represents a victory not only for the EPA, but for the Torres Martinez Collaborative - 25 federal, state and local agencies including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Torres Martinez Cahuilla Indian Tribe, California Integrated Waste Management Board, and Riverside County Fire - that are striving to stop illegal dumping at the Torres Martinez Reservation while removing current waste heaps.

The Coachella Valley is a rapidly developing area. With this increased development, the amount of solid waste illegally dumped on reservation lands has grown, particularly construction, demolition, and agricultural waste.

“This legal victory makes it loud and clear – open dumping on tribal lands is against the law and we are prepared to enforce that law,” said Wayne Nastri, EPA's Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator. “Open dumping is dangerous for human health, and degrades our air, water and land resources."

“Illegal waste dumping is bigger than the tribe; we need to get this monster under control,” said Torres Martinez Tribal Chairman Raymond Torres. “The Torres Martinez Cahuilla Indian Tribe is always interested in health, and stands behind these necessary legal steps.”

Between 1992 - 2006, the Lawsons ran a controversial solid waste firm on Torres Martinez land, openly burning waste between 1992 and 2003. Between 2002 and 2005, the Riverside County Fire Department responded to 25 fires at the site; in 2006, they responded to 20 fires, with one fire burning up to two weeks.

The smoke from Lawson open waste fires affected approximately 5,600 students from surrounding elementary, middle and high-schools, restricting open-air activities among the school children.

In August 2006, the U.S. District Court ordered Kim Lawson and Lawson enterprises to immediately stop all activities. On August 9, 2006, the Bureau of Indian Affairs padlocked the site to prevent any additional dumping.

Following a multi-agency technical meeting last month with participation by the EPA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Torres Martinez Tribe, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Riverside County Fire Department and other involved state and local agencies, the participants have agreed that the appropriate next step is to take prompt action to reduce fire hazards associated with the green waste stockpiled on the surface. The BIA has approximately $100,000 available for this task, which it will begin very shortly.

The Torres Martinez Tribe now has an active environmental program which has closed dumps, impounded vehicles caught dumping trash, and conducted public outreach on dumping. The Torres Martinez Tribe also has the support of the Torres Martinez Collaborative, a team of federal, state and local agencies that helps clean up dumps and clamp

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