OEPA drops license revocation moves against MVSD workers


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By JORDAN COHEN

news@vindy.com

MINERAL RIDGE

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has agreed in a legal settlement not to revoke or suspend the licenses of 12 current and former employees of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District over a training issue.

The 12 include Thomas Holloway, now-retired chief engineer, and Alan Tatalovich, current secretary-treasurer.

The issue involved a six-hour course in spill correction the OEPA mandates for certification renewal. All 12 took the course in February 2015, but the company that administered the training, HS&E Compliance Resources Inc. of Dyer, Ind., completed the course in four hours, two hours less than the OEPA requirement.

The agency said the 12 listed completion of the six-hour course in their certification renewal applications.

That led OEPA to issue “a proposed revocation” of the various certificates held by all 12 in September 2017, accusing each one of “a fraudulent attempt to obtain a renewal.” The group filed for “adjudication” in October.

The Vindicator filed a public records request with the OEPA upon learning about the agency’s plans to revoke the licenses of the 12. Before the newspaper’s filing, there had been no media or public reporting about the allegations.

The agency complied late last week by producing documents containing the background of the allegations, the agreement reached last month to “withdraw the proposed revocations” and a hearing officer’s approval July 17.

Without the legal settlement, the two-hour difference in training could have cost all 12 their licenses and – in all likelihood for those still at MVSD – their jobs.

As part of the settlement, all 12 retook the six-hour course with another provider.

“These folks had no idea the class was going to end early,” said Atty. Stephen Haughey of Cincinnati, who represented the group. “That decision was made by the course instructor on his own and they had no reason to believe their certificate would not be valid.

“Ohio EPA rules do not say that one hour of credit requires 60 minutes of your butt in the seat,” the attorney said. “I would like to see that clarified.”

Haughey said the inclusion of Holloway among the 12 was a red flag. “Tom’s as pure as the driven snow,” he said.

An attempt to reach Holloway for comment was unsuccessful.

Because of the shortened training course and other violations, OEPA Director Craig Butler has placed the company on “a one-year probationary period” effective June 21.

The director’s order also made available at the request of The Vindicator reveals that HS&E “provided trainings in 2015 and 2016 after training approvals expired and with content and length of training time out of compliance.”

OEPA has identified the HS&E instructor as Timothy Zatorski, company president. Zatorski, who signed the document in agreement with Butler’s decision, did not return a message from the newspaper seeking comment.

The revocation dispute follows another highly publicized training issue involving the water provider for several communities, including Youngstown and Niles.

Last December, Anthony Vigorito of Niles, former MVSD plant operations manager, pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges of falsifying training certificates of Youngstown Water Department employees.

The Vindicator asked the OEPA if it is reviewing its trainer evaluations because of Vigorito’s and HS&E’s issues.

“Ohio EPA is working to improve the training and certification processes by updating rules for trainers and operators that will require more accountability and allow for stronger enforcement,” said Anthony Chenault, Ohio EPA media coordinator in a written response.

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