The Suffolk Superior Court has ordered an East Boston auto repair shop owner to pay hefty fines and clean up hazardous waste polluting the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, but the owner said he has tried to comply with the state’s demands but can’t afford the costs.
The court ordered Manuele Scata, who owns D & M Auto Doctor at 1181 Bennington St. in Orient Heights, to pay nearly $180,000 and clean up debris and petroleum products polluting the reservation, the last salt marsh in the city, which is owned by the Commonwealth and managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Scata signed consent orders with the state Department of Environmental Protection agreeing to remove the petroleum contamination in 2005 and again in 2006, but he made no substantial effort to do so, Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement released Wednesday.
“By failing to meet his commitments to the MassDEP time and again, the property owner has put the public at serious risk due to the contamination on his property,” Coakley said in a statement. “We are pleased that the court has officially ordered him to eliminate the contamination that is impacting this valuable natural resource.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Scata said he is not responsible for debris dumped behind his repair shop or gasoline in the soil. The area in back of the shop, he said, has been a dumping ground for 50 years or more. He regularly comes to work in the morning to find an unwanted sofa or refrigerator deposited there, he said.
Scata, who has owned the property since 2000, said fuel was allowed to leach into the soil when the site was a gas station in the 1980s, two owners prior to him.
“I’m being blamed for ground contamination that I didn’t cause,” Scata said. He said he took ownership of the property unaware of the pollution. “When I bought the building there was nothing on file, there was nothing on title searches, then all of a sudden everything starts coming out of the woodwork.”
Under state law, a property owner is responsible for cleanup even if he or she did not own the property at the time of the release and had no role in the release.
Scata said he has tried to work with MassDEP but can’t afford the expensive cleanup required or a lengthy court battle.
“At this time, business is not good. I can’t afford attorneys to fight them,” he said. “So they’re basically doing whatever they want to me because I don’t have money to fight them. … It basically comes down to David and Goliath.”
Scata said he planned to appeal the ruling.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general declined to comment on Scata’s claims. A spokesman for MassDEP said he preferred not to re-litigate the case.
“The matter has gone before the court and the judge issued a decision,” said Joe Ferson, spokesman for MassDEP.
During a 2010 inspection, MassDEP found demolition and construction debris in the marsh, as well as violations of hazardous waste storage laws, according to the statement.
The court’s judgment, issued Nov. 15, ordered Scata to pay $170,000 in civil penalties and nearly $10,000 in court costs and fees. It also said he must extract demolition and construction debris dumped in the Bell Isle Marsh Reservation and remediate soil and groundwater contaminated by petroleum products.
The court found Scata had violated the Hazardous Waste Management Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, and the Wetlands Protection Act.
Scata said he is just trying to make a living during tough economic times. “As an individual and small business owner, I’m not trying to make waves,” he said. “I just want to go to work, take care of my family, and go home.”