The owner of Specialized Fibers, Robert O'Connor, 88, of Corning was arrested by the Tehama County District Attorney's office Tuesday and booked into the county jail on suspicion of illegal disposal of hazardous materials. 

Specialized Fibers at 22985 South Ave., Corning was declared a public nuisance by the Tehama County Board of Supervisors on April 2 nine months after it went up in flames in July 2018.

Tehama County District Attorney Matt Rogers said O'Connor was arrested in relation to the Specialized Fibers site which has been under investigation by his office, the Tehama County Department of Environmental Health and other agencies since the fire.

“Robert O'Connor was arrested for storage of toxic waste at the Specialized Fibers facility based on an ongoing investigation,” Rogers added.

He said O'Connor has been released on a promise to appear with arraignment scheduled for Nov. 19 in Tehama County Superior Court at 8 a.m.

Tim Potanovic, director of the county Department of Environmental Health, who could not be reached for comment, said previously Specialized Fibers had a Tehama County use permit to act as a recycling facility only, and did not have a permit to store any type of hazardous materials, such as the above-ground storage tanks containing regulated materials discovered during an investigation at the property by his department following the fire.

This discovery resulted in the Tehama County Department of Environmental Health, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Tehama County District Attorney’s investigators conducting a search warrant last year at the site during which 57 samples for various types of hazardous substances were obtained for analyses. 

The results of that analysis and continuing investigation led to O'Connor's arrest, Rogers said.

In an earlier interview, O'Connor said he had hired Walberg Inc. to clean up the mess.

However, according to Bud Walberg, owner of the company, he was hired to cleanup the non-hazardous melted steel only from the site, and not any of the hazardous materials as Walberg is not licensed for such operations.

“Before ever stepping foot on the Specialized Fibers property my company acquired all the required permits and submitted plans with the county,” Walberg said. “We did not remove any hazardous debris.”

He added that Walberg has completed its portion of the cleanup and is unaware whether or not O'Connor did his part in hiring a company specialized in hazardous waste cleanup.

According to Potanovic, he estimates the cost to contain the hazardous materials to the property is about $300,000, while the cost to completely clean up and rid the site of all hazardous materials is $2.5 million.

It appears the property and recycling business is now for sale as there is a Preferred Agents real estate sign in front of the South Avenue site which includes 7.5 acres and a 13 acre almond orchard.

However, Potanovic said, there is an Internal Revenue Service lien against the property, and he is not sure how that will pan out for the company and property to be sold, or for his department to try and receive financial compensation if the county has to fund the containment of the hazardous waste.

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