The owner of a Gainesville junkyard along the banks of Lake Manassas that was the site of an April fire was ordered yesterday to pay nearly $300,000 in fines and court costs because of violations of several environmental regulations.
A Prince William Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that Samuel Jones, the owner of Sam's Junkyard, is responsible for reimbursing state agencies and Prince William County for firefighting efforts during a 10-day debris fire in April. Circuit Court Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. also fined the junkyard $110,000 in penalties for permit violations that relate directly to environmental issues.
Yesterday's ruling was the result of two lawsuits filed against the junkyard, one on behalf of the county and the other by Attorney General Mark L. Earley's office in May. Both suits came on the heels of a significant fire that smoldered for days on the junkyard site, a blaze that officials think was set by a group of juveniles and was unrelated to activities at the dump.
"Let this send a strong signal to those who would ignore laws designed to protect our environment," Earley said in a statement yesterday. "When caught, they will be held responsible and required to pay."
Jones could not be reached for comment yesterday. His attorney, Herbert Rosenblum, has said that state and local officials should seek reimbursement from the juveniles who set the fire instead of going after his client, who has operated the junkyard for the last 50 years without major incident.
State environmental officials and the county have been attempting to enforce several alleged violations at the junkyard throughout this decade, but their efforts had largely been unsuccessful before yesterday's ruling.
The fire raised many environmental questions about the junkyard's operations but did very little damage, according to multiple studies conducted after the blaze. The fire angered local residents as well as county, state and national environmental officials because of the junkyard's proximity to a residential neighborhood and Lake Manassas, the principal water supply for Manassas and Manassas Park as well as parts of western Prince William.
Although the blaze sent thick smoke into a neighboring community and some of the water runoff from firefighting efforts inevitably made its way into Lake Manassas, toxin levels measured were within the normal range after the fire.
The lawsuits challenged Jones's claims that he was operating a permitted facility and called for several environmental cleanup actions, which were upheld in court yesterday.
Jones was ordered to pay $72,900 to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for its Emergency Response Fund and to pay Prince William $80,000 for firefighting efforts. Jones also must pay $20,000 to cover attorney's fees.
As part of the order, the junkyard must stop operating portions of the site that were deemed unpermitted, including the large mound of construction debris that burned in the fire.