Battle over contamination at Watchtower site in Warwick
By Hema Easley
Posted Dec. 14, 2015 at 8:20 PM
WARWICK - A slew of companies sued by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society say they don’t bear responsibility for contaminating the Warwick site where the religious group is building its massive world headquarters, and will therefore not pay for it.
Watchtower, better known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, has agreed to dismiss the case against one of the companies, Vale Canada, because New York courts do not have jurisdiction over foreign businesses. Vale Canada is the parent company of International Nickel Inc., which owned the Warwick property from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.
The suit was filed in New York’s Southern District in June against International Nickel and 10 other companies that Watchtower says are affiliated with the mining company. Some of the companies named in the lawsuit are Inco Alloys International, Inc., Huntington Alloys Corporation, Special Metals Corporation, Precision Castparts and Inco United States.
International Nickel had a foundry and a research-and-development operation on the site. Watchtower purchased the property in 2009.
The companies named in the lawsuit say they either didn’t own the business, or didn’t pollute the land, or are not liable. At least one of the companies – Huntington Alloys Inc. - doesn’t exist, according to a court filing by Huntington Alloys Corporation.
Watchtower did not return a call for comment.
In its lawsuit, Watchtower says International Nickel ran a wastewater-treatment plant at the site to handle effluent, and also owned underground tanks to store fuel and other hazardous material.
Watchtower claims that International Nickel discharged petroleum and oils containing polychlorinated byphenyls - or PCBs - into the wastewater treatment plant, and into the soil and groundwater, thereby contaminating the environment at the property. PCBs, which are probable human carcinogens, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, were banned in the United States in 1979.
It isn’t clear when Watchtower discovered the contamination. It contacted the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2012, according to the lawsuit.
Watchtower is seeking unspecified reimbursement for the cost it has incurred in the cleanup and remediation. It is also seeking damages, restitution and attorney fees.
Warwick Supervisor Mike Sweeton said the site has been cleaned as part of the approval process. Watchtower is building offices, apartments to house 1,000 adults, a cafeteria, a vehicle-maintenance building, an infirmary and a parking garage at the site.
Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.