WATCH: Freedom Industries Has Another Spill by Bob Aaron, Heath Harrison, January 31, 2014, WCHS-TV, EYEWITNESS NEWS ONLINE
Another spill has been reported at Freedom Industries facility near Charleston. An excavator ripped into a pipe containing water and crude MCHM Thursday night. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said the material spilled into a cutoff trench and did not reach the Elk River. The pipe was not listed on the maps of Freedom Industries’ grounds. Crews used a camera to explore the pipe. A strong licorice odor was produced. The DEP called it a small amount, but declined to say how much was spilled. The spill was said to have slowed to a trickle. The company had a major chemical spill of MCHM Jan. 9 at its Barlow Drive facility near Charleston. The leak into the Elk River resulted in a massive water crisis in nine counties.
Who Runs Freedom Industries? West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Mystery by Paul M. Barrett, January 30, 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek
Before the lawsuits and the retreat into federal bankruptcy court, before the change in ownership in a veiled roll-up by an out-of-state coal baron, before the Justice Department’s environmental-crimes investigation, the presidentially declared emergency, and the National Guard’s arrival-nine years before all of that-the co-founder of Freedom Industries, the company at the center of the Jan. 9 chemical spill that cut off tap water for 300,000 West Virginians, was convicted of siphoning payroll tax withholdings to splurge on sports cars, a private plane, and real estate in the Bahamas. And 18 years before that, in 1987, before he started Freedom Industries, Carl Kennedy II was convicted of conspiring to sell cocaine in a scandal that brought down the mayor of Charleston.
Little known, even locally, Freedom was born and operated in a felonious milieu populated by old friends who seemed better suited to bartending at the Charleston-area saloons they also owned. “These people who were running Freedom Industries weren’t the sort you’d put in charge of something like chemical storage that could affect the whole community,” Danny Jones, Charleston’s current mayor, says. “Who are these guys, anyway?”
Good question. Kennedy kept the books for bars and restaurants, including a rib house Mayor Jones used to own, although he hadn’t gotten to know him well. “He was pleasant enough,” Jones says. Until the spill, the mayor had no idea his former accountant had been enmeshed with Freedom. That really seems troubling, Jones says, “especially with the cocaine stuff in his history.”
Kennedy’s main partner was a college buddy named Dennis Farrell, who had some technical background and took over Freedom after Kennedy went to prison in 2006. By Farrell’s own account, the company, founded in 1992, nearly ran aground on his watch. Only a rescue in 2009 funded by the federal antirecession stimulus program kept the company going.
The third member of the company’s leadership triad, Gary Southern, has served as Freedom’s public face since the spill. He lives in Marco Island, Fla., and says he’d been advising the company for several years before becoming full-time president in 2013. Not blessed with a talent for public expression, Southern didn’t mention in the first days after the leak of 10,000 gallons of coal-processing compounds that Freedom had been acquired, only 10 days earlier, by Cliff Forrest.
A different sort of character from Kennedy, Farrell, and Southern, Forrest founded and heads Rosebud Mining, the third-largest coal producer in Pennsylvania and the 21st-largest in the country. He’s a prominent figure in his industry and an opponent of what he calls the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” Why he wanted Freedom’s decrepit facilities for blending and distributing chemicals remains a mystery. Publicly, Forrest hasn’t said a word. His connection to Freedom wasn’t confirmed until Jan. 17, when his lawyers put the company into bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 filing in Charleston required disclosure of a financial paper trail that led to Forrest’s coal company headquarters near Pittsburgh via another entity called Chemstream Holdings.
So while the spill revealed once again that porous legislation and murky assumptions about industry self-policing hinder oversight of dangerous chemicals, it also highlighted a peculiar and deeply troubling element of American commerce, one where holding companies and roll-ups make it difficult to determine who’s accountable.
Kennedy grew up in Montgomery, W. Va., a small city on the Kanawha River. He went to college there at West Virginia University Institute of Technology. It was later, in Charleston, that he attained a measure of notoriety.
West Virginia’s rugged mountains and forested hollows are home to struggling coal-mining communities. Locals call the Kanawha region Chemical Valley because of the network of foul-smelling refining plants spread across it. The state ranks among the nation’s poorest. Charleston, with its office towers and expensive eateries, is a place apart: Home to a social and business elite of lawyers, lobbyists, and coal executives, the capital enjoys a wealth and élan alien to the state’s rural and industrial precincts.
In the mid-1980s, Kennedy moved easily in a narcotic-fueled night scene associated with Charleston’s Republican mayor at the time, James “Mad Dog” Roark. Targeted by a federal investigation, Roark pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in 1987, resigned as mayor, and went to jail. The same year, Kennedy, then 30 years old, was charged with distributing the not-trivial amount of 10 ounces to 12 ounces of coke. In a plea deal, he admitted to one distribution count and was sentenced to five years’ probation. In all, federal prosecutors notched some 30 convictions.
[Refer also to:
300,000 told not to bathe, brush teeth, wash clothes after chemical spill hits West Virginia tap water, White House issued federal disaster declaration; When Encana frac’d Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers and injected secret chemicals, no warnings issued by Health, Environment, AER or politicians! ]