Judge orders Lyon County officials to review gas company decision

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DAYTON -- Additional evidence will be required if revocation of Advanced Specialty Gases' operating permit is going to stand up in court.

District Court Judge David Huff has determined last October's 3-2 vote by Lyon County commissioners to pull the special-use permit was not supported by sufficient findings of fact and ordered the issue back to the board for further review.

The county commission plans to hold a closed session with District Attorney Leon Aberasturi at 2 p.m. Thursday to discuss the judge's Aug. 27 decision.

The judge ordered the review include consideration of possible alternatives to revocation, including establishment of deadlines and increased inspections of the controversial gas-production company.

Advanced Specialty Gases President Michael Koonce is out of the country until Wednesday evening and unavailable for comment.

In January 1996, Advanced Specialty Gases, 28 Enterprise Way, was granted a special-use permit to manufacture nitrogen trifluoride and purification of fluorocarbons. It included the on-site storage of hydrofluoric acid.

The plant has been closed since a July 2000 explosion in the nitrogen trifluoride distillation processing room. Hydrogen fluoride, a potentially dangerous gas, is used in the process, but was not involved in the July 2000 incident.

Following the explosion, inspections by the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection and Occupational Safety and Health Agency resulted in the company being fined for several violations. The company paid a negotiated reduced fine of $45,000, but admitted no wrongdoing. Since that time, the company has spent more than $1 million on plant reconstruction in efforts to meet state, county and fire district requirements.

Developers and residents protested the plant's reopening and insisted the county conduct its own investigation before issuing a new permit. Following completion of the county-funded investigation by SECOR, an independent risk-analysis firm, county officials proceeded with a revocation hearing. After hearing more than 12 hours of testimony, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve Commissioner Chet Hillyard's 24-point motion to revoke the permit.

Citing the hearing as inadequate and prejudicial, the company sued Lyon County for $5 million and asked the Third Judicial District Court to overturn the decision.

The judge contends the company has a legitimate claim of entitlement in its permit, which cannot be revoked arbitrarily. He said several of the findings in Hillyard's motion appeared to be redundant, while others appeared to be simply policy statements rather than findings applicable to revocation and others "appeared to be speculative at best and not supported by the evidence."


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