Jurors selected Wednesday in a high-stakes federal trial must answer a $25 million question: Who should pay for ground water pollution at the Colbert landfill?
Not us, said attorneys for Twin City Fire Insurance Co. during opening statements before U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen.
The 1982 liability policy Twin City sold Spokane County wasn’t meant to cover gradual pollution from a halfdecade of industrial dumping at Colbert, said attorney Dean Lum of Seattle.
“Prior to 1982, the county expected pollution from Colbert,” but neglected to purchase the right type of liability policy, Lum said.
An attorney for Spokane County said officials didn’t know for sure the Colbert landfill was polluting neighbors’ drinking water wells until after they bought the $25 million Twin City policy.
“The water was contaminated during the policy period,” said attorney Frank Conklin.
In May 1981, when county officials sought U.S. Environmental Protection Agency money to drill wells at Colbert to check which way ground water was flowing, they weren’t admitting liability, Conklin said.
“Spokane County went to the EPA for the same reason Willie Sutton went to banks - that’s where the money was,” Conklin said.
The county didn’t know until the tests were finished in April 1982 that the landfill was the source of the contamination, he said.
The landfill was placed on the federal list of Superfund cleanup sites in August 1983.
The Colbert trial is expected to last six days. It will include testimony from those responsible for two decades of solid waste disposal practices in the county.
The jurors include a former mayor of Quincy, Wash., U.S. Postal Service and Internal Revenue Service retirees, several homemakers, a Millwood businesswoman and a Key Tronic Corp. engineer.
Key Tronic and the U.S. Air Force, the main industrial polluters at Colbert, already have paid $7.5 million into a cleanup trust fund.
Several other insurance companies that sold policies before Colbert became a Superfund site have settled with the county, paying $5.5 million toward the cleanup.