Ore. developer faces air pollution charges

BC-OR—Developer Arrested,0474
ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon developer has been arrested on charges of unlawful air pollution, reckless endangerment and supplying false information to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, according to the Linn County District Attorney’s Office.

Dan Desler, 65, of Eugene was lodged in the county jail Monday on $100,000 bail.

The allegations stem from asbestos found in the demolition of buildings at a former lumber mill site in Sweet Home. The site, once owned by Willamette Industries, is now controlled by a trust Desler established in 2002 to build a subdivision.

The arrest came a day after The Register-Guard newspaper published a front-page story about Desler’s dealings in Sweet Home.

Leah Koss, an environmental law specialist with the DEQ, said Monday that a Linn County grand jury indicted Desler and the Western States Land Reliance Trust on April 22.

Environment cases rarely turn into criminal matters, but “some cases are deemed to be egregious to the point where we refer them to the Oregon State Police and the EPA for possible criminal charges,” Koss said.

The trust was established to benefit a Portland charity called the Oregon Health Care Foundation, of which Desler is a board member. It received about 400 acres in land donations from Willamette Industries and Morse Bros., which received a combined $6 million in tax write-offs, according to federal tax filings.

Desler, in a recent interview with The Register-Guard, said Willamette Industries provided a report saying the mill site was asbestos-free. The city of Sweet Home issued Desler a demolition permit for the site, but it was revoked after the city was notified by the DEQ of asbestos on-site, according to Carol Lewis, the city’s community development director.

Desler hired Charles Corp to demolish the buildings in 2007. But Corp, who testified before the grand jury, did not know the site contained asbestos, said deputy district attorney Heidi Sternhagen of Linn County.

Desler’s attorney, Michael Vergamini, said he was aware of the arrest, but it was unexpected and he could not comment on specifics.

Lane County Commissioner Bill Dwyer, a member of the trust board, said it’s “bogus” that his friend has been arrested on an environmental offense when real criminals are on the streets.

“There wasn’t supposed to be any asbestos in there,” Dwyer said. “He was dealt his hand, and he’s doing the best he can. I think in the end, justice will prevail.”

The DEQ, in a separate case, levied a $192,000 fine in December against Desler and his Sweet Home-based companies, Western Renewable Resources and Western Trucking, along with the trust, for two solid-waste dumps. One is on the trust property, the other is just west of Sweet Home.

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