A Colchester septic service operator signed an agreement last month to begin paying the $58,550 he owes the Vt. Agency of Natural Resources, a combination of penalties and fees for unlawfully managing septic waste for over a decade.
The agreement was a step forward in a struggle between Enviro Tech of Vermont owner Randy Duval and the state agency.
Duval said ANR is working with him to lessen the impact of the penalties and fees on his small business.
“My company would have gone bankrupt before,” he said, reflecting on the original cost of the penalty.
According to ANR attorney Kane Smart, the court, in an unusual circumstance, has reopened the proceeding to revisit the timeline of Duval’s payments.
“Law favors finality,” Smart said. “You get one bite of the apple, and the outcome is the outcome … here we need to argue that justice should overcome [law’s] need for finality.”
As the initial order stood, Duval owed $58,550 in penalties. Smart said it was a “chicken and the egg” kind of problem: Duval needs an operating permit to keep working and pay the penalty, but he can’t afford the permit due to paying the penalty.
According to Smart, the new agreement doesn’t lower the amount of the penalty but changes the monthly payment, which would be $1,300 per month for two years.
“If he makes all of them on time and remains compliant with the operating permit then the [additional penalty of] $27,350 is not owed,” Smart said.
Despite efforts to lessen the impact of the penalty, Duval has struggled, he said. He has noticed a “fair amount of loss” in profit compared to his operations in 2017. Duval, the sole owner and employee of Enviro Tech, works up to14 hours per day and services some 1,000 clients in Chittenden and its surrounding counties.
“I’ve lost customers over this,” he said. “One of them was a $20,000 per year customer … you can’t make up that money. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Duval said a condo association he serviced terminated its business with him after hearing about the legal proceedings. He said one of the owners saw his name in the paper and decided to hire a different septic service.
“They ended up going to a direct competitor,” Duval said.
Another of Duval’s clients was difficult to lose because of personal connections he had made over the time he serviced the property.
“They were my customer for 16 years,” he said. “Having to lose them was devastating because I’ve known them; I knew their employees.”
Duval has not lost the business of any private residences he serves, which he attributes to treating them like family. He admitted to mismanaging permits but never the waste he transported.
“I’ve never lost a gallon of sewage,” Duval said. “I have a paper trail of where the sewage came from and where the sewage was brought.”
Smart said the environmental risks of operating a solid waste transportation company without a permit are substantial.
“A permit is the way the agency is able to oversee,” he said. “On a fundamental level, failure to obtain a permit causes the potential to be operating outside of requirements.”
Smart said the agency’s regulations are in place for a reason: “Those are the teeth that protect the natural resources,” he said.
Smart said the new agreement ANR and Duval are working on “allows for reasonable consideration of Mr. Duval’s situation.”
Initially, Duval was unsure of where to send his penalty payments and to whom he should make the payments, although this information was included in the agreement he signed on May 10. He said he was told to send his checks to the Vermont Treasury.
“It sounds like it’s going to the big kitty,” he said. “I don’t find that fair because [a multitude of organizations] can pull from it.”
According to Smart, it’s typical for settlements to be paid this way.
Duval remains saddened by the events following the 2016 violation against his company.
“This is my baby. I started this company from nothing; [with] no money from the bank,” he said. “They ripped it from beneath my legs.”