Data estimate 2,000 gallons of sewage spilled onto Kennewick street

By John Trumbo, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 17, 2012 

KENNEWICK — Federal search warrants issued in the investigation of the illegal dumping of portable toilets in Kennewick estimate 2,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled onto a public street.

The documents filed in U.S. District Court in Richland say the overflow backed up into the street along a gutter and into a storm drain catch basin. Two employees of a nearby business reported feeling ill after one incident.

The Washington Department of Ecology fined John Liniger, owner of Sunshine Portable Toilets, $50,000 in connection with the alleged illegal dumping.

Court documents for two search warrants include a photo taken of a Sunshine sewage pumper truck reportedly pumping waste into the Kennewick sewer on Plaza Way on Oct. 16.

Warrants obtained by the agents of the federal Environmental Protection Agency also describe five incidents involving illegal disposal of portable toilet waste into the Plaza Way manhole.

City and state officials claim John Liniger of Kennewick is responsible for the illegal dumping on Oct. 2, 7, 16 and 19.

On Oct. 2, about 500 gallons of sewage overflowed from the manhole on the roadway in an undeveloped area near Southridge High School in south Kennewick.

The clogged sewer line shut down sewer service to the Meadow Hills South Veterinary Center on Plaza Way for several hours because of strong odors. Two veterinary employees were sent home feeling ill, court records say.

On Oct. 7, an estimated 1,500 gallons of sewage seeped from the manhole.

Documents say city officials cleaned up the spill and blockage in the Plaza Way sewer main the week after Oct. 7.

City crew members also reported that it looked like an "unidentified dumper has been dumping into this manhole for over a year." City officials say it cost $7,800 to clean up and sanitize after the mess.

The search warrant affidavit said city staff installed a motion-activated night vision wildlife camera Oct. 14. A check of the camera's images from the weekend showed a sewage pumper truck parked next to the Plaza Way manhole early Sunday.

Photos show a hose from the truck inserted into the manhole, records said.

Federal agents then staked out the area Oct. 18-19.

Eric Goetz, special agent for the EPA who did the overnight stakeout, reported in the court documents that he saw a pumper truck approach and stop at the Plaza Way manhole at 4:24 a.m.

"The pumper truck was observed making a U-turn at the dead-end, parking in the vicinity of the manhole and turning off its lights," Goetz wrote.

Goetz followed the truck as it drove away five minutes later.

The pumper truck, which Goetz was able to identify as being from Sunshine Portable Toilets, headed south from Kennewick on Highway 395 and Interstate 82, turning onto Highway 14 near the Oregon border.

Goetz followed and watched as the truck stopped at a Plymouth shop building marked Sunshine Portable Toilets.

Search warrants obtained Oct. 20 were used two days later to look for business records at the shop in Plymouth and to search the 2007 red and white International pumper truck that Goetz tailed from Plaza Way.

Court records show agents seized a sample from the truck dump valve and three two-gallon plastic bags containing disposal receipts, schedules, maps and business documents.

Liniger's septic tank pumper license with the Benton-Franklin Health District has been placed on a conditional status pending results of the investigation. His permit allowed him to dispose of sewage from portable toilets at Overlook Farms in Finley, which has a permit for the sludge.

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