NDEP finds funding for outside consultant in ASG investigation

DAYTON - The investigation into the July 30 explosion at Advanced Specialty Gases will get an independent review, but not at the expense of Lyon County.

Nevada Department of Environmental Protection officials Thursday said the Environmental Protection Agency will provide federal funds enabling the state to hire a technical specialist to examine the findings of the investigative firm hired by ASG.

"The EPA has made money available," State Supervisor of Chemical Accident Prevention Mark Zusy said. "We will do a peer review of the results of the investigation in addition to reviewing plant records.

"This is just another set of eyes, which I think is good," Zusy said.

He said the state had verbal commitments of interest from "a couple of individuals, but I don't want to name names at this point."

At the request of Central Lyon County Fire Chief Bill Driscoll, the issue of the county retaining a consultant to work in concert with the state was scheduled for possible action at Thursday's Lyon County commissioner meeting, but Commission Chairman LeRoy Goodman said the issue "Had been taken care of by the NDEP with the U.S. EPA."

A letter from state Waste Management Director David Emme verifying the commitment was read into the record. Driscoll was not present at the meeting.

Commissioner David Fulstone apologized to company officials for any perceived miscommunications on the matter.

"I think the reason we have gone very slowly and carefully on this and not listened to accusations or anything of that sort is worthy. This board is very good at moving ahead slowly and methodically in making sure the business is protected as it should be and the citizens around it are protected as well," he said. "I think both sides have been very cooperative."

At the Sept. 21 board meeting, Commissioner Bob Milz asked the county to consider allocating $20,000 for a consultant, saying he and District Attorney Robert Estes have additional information about ASG "That is a good reason to approve the hiring of a consultant." He declined to reveal his information to the rest of the board.

Driscoll has previously said expertise beyond local resources was needed to determine if there is cause for either denying or revoking ASG's special use permit.

In a letter to the commissioners, ASG President Michael Koonce said he welcomes the hiring of an outside consultant and would cooperate in any way possible. He also stated that upon company's hiring of the investigation firm, Exponent, both state and Central Lyon fire officials expressed satisfaction with the selection.

"Before choosing Exponent, ASG had waited for the NDEP, at NDEP's request, to recommend an independent forensic engineering firm. After a week with no recommendations, ASG was legally and morally obligated to begin its own investigation," the letter stated.

Koonce also said his company has repeatedly asked the state to express any concerns it might have so those issues could be incorporated into the investigation, but, to date, the company has not received an answer to the request.

In an Oct. 16, letter, Koonce reported that preliminary results from the investigation showed the explosion released about 100 cubic feet of nitrogen triflouride gas. He said the hazardous hydrogen fluoride gas stored on the site was never in danger of being released.

Koonce denied that an earlier incident occurred. He said the company had a fitting failure which required repairs. The incident was investigated and a report forwarded to the state.

"We think it is important the commissioners fully understand the situation that has occurred, put the facts in perspective and separate the truth from the hysteria and rumors that have irresponsibly been generated by this incident," Koonce wrote in his letter.


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