Cost of re-creating records destroyed by ex-DEP employee unknown

Posted Feb. 13, 2013, at 8:45 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2013, at 6:29 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Re-creating the records destroyed by a former employee at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection will take hundreds of hours and the cost may never be known, a DEP spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Jon P. Andrews, 58, of Augusta, a former hazardous waste cleanup specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection admitted Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court to tossing out documents related to more than 250 oil spills to which he had responded or had been reported to him.

“We have no exact estimate of the amount of time and money it has taken or is going to take to re-create these records,” Samantha DePoy-Warren said. “We are missing some really critical information.”

Information on the dates and locations of the reported spills were retained, she said. A list of all the spills in which records are missing was not available Wednesday.

Andrews pleaded guilty to tampering with public records, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said Tuesday.

He destroyed his notes and other documents related to 265 oil spills his last day on the job before retiring. The records covered a 2½ -year period from 2010 through March 6, 2012, the prosecutor said.

Andrews was seen dragging a 55-gallon bag out of the office his last day on the job, Robbin said. It was not until people began looking for records that the connection between Andrews dragging the bag and the missing documents was made by other employees, she said.

Information from the destroyed documents had not been entered into a final report that is uploaded to a database and is available to the public, Robbin said.

“The missing records make it extremely difficult for DEP to provide information to landowners, creditors and responsible parties with an interest in the property or resources impacted by the spills,” Robbin said in an email. “Andrews was the sole custodian of the records.”

Those records often are accessed when property is about to be sold to see if spills have occurred, according to DePoy-Warren. They also are sought by investigators, attorneys and reporters who might want a spill history for a particular company or location.

Andrews worked out of the Augusta office and covered an area from the Midcoast through Skowhegan to the western border, DePoy-Warren said.

To re-create the destroyed records, others involved in many of the larger spills have been able to compile reports, DePoy-Warren said. One example is a fuel oil spill on Nov. 17, 2011, of about 200 gallons from an aboveground storage tank at a mobile home park in Camden.

The report, supplied by DePoy Warren, explains how the spill occurred, what was done to contain it and the potential impact of the spill.

“It appears that water collected in the filter and froze, expanding the filter assembly and allowing oil to leak to the ground,” the report says. “Oil flowed over the ground toward a drainage ditch that runs through the mobile home park.”

Sorbent pads, hand excavation and a vacuum truck were used to collect the oil, according to the report. An underflow dam was constructed downstream of a wooded wetland to allow surface water to drain while collecting floating oil.

Two public water supply wells that supply the park and one private well were at risk from the spill, the report says. Water samples were taken and no impacts to groundwater were detected.

A report dated Jan 3, 2012, however, simply states that there was an “oil incident” reported at 11:27 a.m. on a utility pole 12 on Avenue Road in Wales.

So far, no other information about what happened or why has been included in the report, DePoy-Warren said. If Andrews had left his notes, the report could have been completed.

In a deferred disposition agreement, Andrews’ case will be continued for five months, Robbin said. If Andrews pays $3,500 to the Maine Coast and Inland Surface Oil Cleanup Fund, the DEP administered fund that finances the responders and cleanup costs, he can withdraw his plea and the complaint will be dismissed.

Andrews entered an Alford plea, his attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta said Tuesday. By entering an Alford plea, Andrews acknowledged that a jury could find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but he still claims innocence.

Tampering with public records is a Class D crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

McKee said Tuesday that Andrews “cleaned out his desk” as most employees do when they leave a job.

Robbin described Andrews as a disgruntled employee. He was hired by the DEP in 1989. In October 2011, Andrews lost an appeal to an arbitrator to have his job reclassified at a higher level.

DePoy-Warren said she hoped the case sent a message to state employees and the public about the importance of state records.

“Our spill responders are among our agency’s best ambassadors as they are the EMTs of the environment, responding to nearly 3,000 spills a year,” DePoy Warren said Wednesday in an email.

“I hope this malicious act by a long disgruntled employee doesn’t reflect negatively on them, but rather reinforces to Mainers how rigorously all department and state employees uphold a commitment to records retention, transparency and public service,” she continued. “These aren’t simply DEP documents — they are the public’s records.”

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