Potvin’s Illegal Dump

by Published: Oct 3, 2012

In 1996, under sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) received an anony­mous phone call tip­ping them off about an ille­gal dump­ing action.

The inves­ti­ga­tions led to Western Concrete Products Company being charged and heav­ily fined. The clean-up effort ranged from 1998 until its ter­mi­na­tion in 2002 and cost the com­pany $162,500 in fines.

The anony­mous caller informed the DEQ that sev­eral hun­dred gal­lons of toxic mate­ri­als had been ille­gally dumped into an old ele­va­tor pit in or around the spring of 1996 by Cadillac’s branch of Western Concrete Products Company. The caller explained that the approx­i­mately 20 foot pit had been filled with stains, seal­ers and petroleum-based liq­uids in five-gallon pails and 55 gal­lon drums.

The call led to a full-blown inves­ti­ga­tion that found Phil Potvin (who is the cur­rent 102nd dis­trict state rep­re­sen­ta­tive) and his com­pany Western Concrete Products Company fully cul­pa­ble for the dump­ing actions. The doc­u­men­tal evi­dence recov­ered via The Freedom of Information Act details the dis­cov­ery, depo­si­tion state­ments from work­ers and the cor­re­spon­dence between Potvin, his attor­ney and the DEQ.

In the wit­ness depo­si­tion, a for­mer worker states: “There were some 55 gal­lon drums, 20 I guess there are. And then there were also numer­ous five-gallon pails. I believe there were some as small as quarts. There may have been some plas­tic containers.”

The immense amount of prod­ucts found totaled over 200 gal­lons of unknown haz­ardous waste prod­ucts. Witnesses stated that “strong odors” wafted from the pit, but they couldn’t be sure exactly what the amal­ga­ma­tion of fumes was.

Potvin’s first plan of action was to deny the alle­ga­tions. After fur­ther research showed that the waste indeed was there, his next idea was to “mon­i­tor” the waste on site.

As is stated in cor­re­spon­dence between the DEQ ref­er­enc­ing a meet­ing between the DEQ, Potvin and Potvin’s lawyer, it is stated, “He then went on to request per­mis­sion for his client to leave the mate­r­ial there, in place, and just mon­i­tor it.”

The DEQ did not favor these cir­cum­stances, nor were they able to acqui­esce Potvin’s pro­posal for cleanup that basi­cally allowed the whole thing to blow over.

Further wit­ness state­ments from a worker also allege that Potvin’s com­pany may have had more prob­lems, but Potvin’s busi­ness prac­tices made it impos­si­ble for them to feel com­fort­able speak­ing out against him. In a line of ques­tion­ing, the worker tes­ti­fy­ing admit­ted speak­ing out against Potvin “wouldn’t be good,” and insin­u­ated that the dump­ing action occurred “because he’s (Potvin) try­ing to save a buck.” Potvin’s char­ac­ter is also alleged to be one of a vin­dic­tive nature.

The worker’s state­ment con­tin­ued to say, “I mean, $30,000 is a drop in the bucket (refer­ring to the cleanup fee), you know. There’s a lot of peo­ple liv­ing around there that aren’t going to be able to drink their water because of this shit if it gets in the ground water.”

The DEQ enforced the cleanup of Western Concrete Products from 1998 until 2002, when it was found that com­pli­ance had finally been met. The fines sanc­tioned totaled $162,500. The Torch tried to con­tact Potvin sev­eral times but was unable to get a com­ment by time of printing.