The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has fined a Huntington couple a total of $48,700 for burning an abandoned house one of them owned in Huntington without properly dealing with housing materials that contained asbestos.
The state agency on Oct. 16 fined Tracy Jean McCue, who owned the home at 145 Jefferson St., $22,450.
The same day the DEQ fined Travis Young $26,250.
Both fines involved the same Feb. 24, 2019, incident in which Young burned the partially collapsed home at 145 Jefferson St.
McCue said she was both surprised by the fine, and upset because although she and Young have been a couple for 19 years, they were fined separately.
Anzie St. Clair, who works for the DEQ, said it’s not certain whether or not the agency would have issued a single penalty, rather than two, had the couple been married.
St. Clair noted that the complaints allege separate actions — that McCue, as the legal owner of the home, asked Young to burn the structure, and that he actually did the burning.
McCue said she and Young, who is also the Huntington assistant fire chief, hope to meet with DEQ officials in December to discuss the situation.
McCue said they will decide after that meeting whether to appeal the fines.
She doesn’t dispute the basic elements of the DEQ’s complaints.
McCue said the roof of her house at 145 Jefferson collapsed under the weight of the unusually deep snow early in 2017.
McCue said she had the power disconnected to the home, but over the next two years people had broken into and vandalized the structure.
“It was very unsafe,” said McCue, who worried that a child might be hurt while trespassing.
She said a Huntington official told Young that something needed to be done about the house.
McCue said she asked Young to burn it.
Only later did she learn that a resident had reported the incident to DEQ.
According to the complaints against both McCue and Young, the home’s cement board siding “contained 25% of chrysotile asbestos by weight.”
Burning that siding, according to the complaint, “releases asbestos fibers into the air which, when uncontrolled can settle out including onto nearby surfaces.”
The DEQ also alleges that from the day the house was burned, Feb. 24, 2019, until about April 15, 2019, burned debris, including partially burned siding, “was present uncovered at the site of the (home).”
McCue said that once she learned about the DEQ’s concerns, she hired a licensed asbestos abatement contractor to remove debris from the property.
“We’ve already spent close to ($8,000) on this project,” she said.
The DEQ complaints against both McCue and Young note that on May 15 and 16, the licensed contractor did that work.
McCue said she believed that burning the home was the most expedient way to eliminate the hazard the partially collapsed home presented.
She said she didn’t realize that state law required her to hire someone to survey the property for asbestos, and to notify the DEQ at least 10 days before burning the building.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” McCue said.