WARREN - A Warren water treatment company, shut down after rulings by state agencies led to work stoppage for several months, on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources seeking more than $3.5 million and alleging the state hid and destroyed public records.
Patriot Water Treatment, which operates a plant in Warren, had been forced to stop operations from April 1 to July 3 while it battled the ODNR for permission to restart operations. The company alleges ODNR intentionally and illegally withheld and destroyed public documents that would have aided in the company's case.
Ultimately, Patriot won a challenge of ODNR's ruling through the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission, or ERAC, but not until after the plant had ceased operations for more than three months and lost millions of dollars in business.
Patriot Water treats brine wastewater generated in the oil and natural gas drilling industry then disposes of it through the Warren Pollution Control Department. The treated brine water is Patriot's sole product and the reason the Warren company opened.
Permits allowing the disposal were initially granted by the OEPA, but the agency later issued new permits to Warren's Water Pollution Control Department that included a ban on accepting brine water treated at Patriot.
Without the disposal method, Patriot's operation was halted until Columbus-based ERAC ultimately ruled that the OEPA's action banning the City of Warren from accepting waters from Patriot was unlawful.
According to the suit filed Friday in Franklin County's Court of Claims, Patriot had requested from the ODNR records dated Jan. 1, 2009, to May 17, 2011, related to the company's case.
Patriot alleges in the suit that ODNR provided only limited and specific records that were incomplete.
At one point, Patriot maintains that former ODNR chief of mineral resources management John Husted had referred to a July 21, 2009, email during a 2012 deposition. During the deposition, Husted turned to his counsel and said, ''I'm assuming you made it available to others."
His attorney responded, "No, not yet."
The email between OEPA spokesman Mike Settles and OEPA inspector Donna Kniss discusses a Warren public hearing, but makes light of who should drink the treated water.
The email is just one example of the documents Patriot maintains were withheld.
"It is reprehensible that State agencies would publicly take positions against my company that they knew were untrue and then prevent us from having access to the public documents undercutting the State's claims,'' Patriot president Andrew Blocksom said Friday. ''Because of ODNR's decision to conceal public documents, dozens of families struggled unnecessarily.
"The fact that ODNR thinks hiding or destroying public documents is acceptable is appalling," Blocksom continued. "Had ODNR followed the law, I would not have had to engage in multiple pieces of litigation or been forced to shutter my business for months."
A message left seeking comment from ODNR late Friday was not immediately returned.