Bethany sues aerospace companies over water pollution
BETHANY — The city of Bethany has sued two aerospace companies over high levels of pollution found in municipal water wells in an attempt to avert a “water supply crisis.”
In its federal complaint, Bethany claims Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation, and Savannah, Ga.-based Gulf-stream Aerospace are responsible for a plume of pollution from aircraft solvents found in the groundwater west of the old Gulfstream manufacturing plant at Wiley Post Airport, 7400 NW 50.
The pollution, from chemicals used to degrease aircraft parts, has migrated from the old Gulfstream plant into city water wells in Bethany, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that although the aerospace companies knew pollutants from the site were leaching into the groundwater in 2008, they did nothing to inform the city of Bethany about the problem until 2012.
Bethany has had to shut down two municipal water wells because of the pollutants from the old aircraft facility, said David Davis, Bethany's city attorney.
The solvents trichloroethene and tetrachloroethene have been found to exceed federal limits in the two contaminated wells, Davis said.
“We don't have any wells that are connected to our water supply now that are contaminated, but it's headed that way if we don't get it stopped,” Davis said.
Bethany claims its water supply has been “severely taxed” after the city was forced to shut down the two wells, particularly in summer months when water demand peaks, according to the lawsuit.
“The loss of additional wells resulting from groundwater contamination encroachment would result in a water supply crisis for Bethany and its customers,” the city claims in its lawsuit.
The city filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Bethany has hired the New York City-based environmental law firm Weitz and Luxembourg to represent it in the lawsuit.
The suit seeks to recover money Bethany has spent to monitor its water wells and test for contamination, as well as the cost of maintaining and upgrading its water treatment facilities.
Bethany also wants the companies to pay for the cost of finding a new water supply for the city.
Rockwell Automation was formerly known as North American Aviation, and operated the aircraft manufacturing facility from 1956 until it was taken over by Gulfstream.
The Gulfstream plant employed more than 500 people at its peak, but laid off the last of its workers in 2002 before closing the factory doors and auctioning off all of its equipment. Gulfstream had operated the aircraft manufacturing plant out of a hangar on the south side of Wiley Post Airport since 1982.
Gulfstream and Rockwell Automation both said they continue to work with state regulators on cleanup efforts.
While the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and city of Bethany say water testing has shown pollutants from the plant found in the city's water exceed federal limits in some areas, both Gulfstream and Rockwell deny this.
“To date, the consistent testing of the City of Bethany's water supply has not shown evidence of any contaminants associated with the operations at the former manufacturing facility,” the companies said in a statement. “The ODEQ's periodic testing of Bethany's groundwater has consistently demonstrated that the groundwater complies with all federal clean water standards.”
Oklahoma City now owns the former Gulf-stream property at Wiley Post, and the Airport Trust took control of the closed factory in 2008.
However, Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Airport Trust are not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The Oklahoma City Airport Trust Authority, Gulfstream and Rockwell are all working with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality's Voluntary Cleanup Program to find a way to clean up pollutants from the old aircraft plant, but the cleanup process has yet to begin, said Erin Hatfield, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Quality.
“It is true that there are some areas where the groundwater does have levels of solvents present that are higher than federal limits,” Hatfield said in an email.