Tuesday’s Early Afternoon Testimony
This afternoon’s proceedings began with Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Cassidy concluding his re-direct examination of Paul Peronard of the EPA. Cassidy led Peronard through a series of exhibits already in the record, many of which the defense had used during cross-examination. As with any re-direct, Cassidy aimed to buttress any weaknesses or inconsistencies in Peronard’s cross-examination testimony by revisiting statements and exhibits and allowing Peronard to qualify his “cross” statements in more detail. Peronard discussed, with great detail as to the time period of 1999 to 2000, many of the difficulties the EPA experienced during its W.R. Grace related clean-up efforts. His answers related specifically to the Parker family, who purchased the screening plant from W.R. Grace, and the EPA’s experience at the screening plant. Peronard reiterated his conclusions that the EPA’s cleanup could have proceeded more quickly were it not for W.R. Grace’s activities, and finished his re-direct discussing the state of the screening plant upon the EPA’s arrival. Cassidy informed the court that he had no further questions, but reserved the right to call Peronard later. Thus, Peronard remains under subpoena and may be called to testify again.
Per Judge Molloy’s strongly worded order of Monday morning, the United States next called Mel Parker. Assistant United States Attorney Kris McLean had hoped to save Mr. Parker and his wife until the end of the United States’ case-in-chief, but could not. Judge Molloy found himself in the pinch-point between a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals order and the suddenly recalcitrant Parkers, and he neatly solved this problem by giving the United States the option of either calling Mr. Parker or Mrs. Parker as its next witness. This removed any potential problem with their attendance of further proceedings, regardless of their possible position as witnesses/victims.
Mr. Parker’s life story weaves in and out of the potentially criminal acts of the defendants, so his testimony predictably moved forward and backward through Libby’s history, as well as from one vermiculite laden area along the Kootenai River to another. Mr. Parker, now retired, spent his life as a forester, first managing timberlands for the St. Regins Paper Company, and then later starting a nursery to facilitate reforestation with his wife, Lerah.
The Parkers raised small trees that could then later find a home in a logged forest. They ran their business well and soon found it necessary to expand to a larger facility. Around 1992, via their acquaintance with the late Alan Stringer, they negotiated the purchase of the screening plant, a W.R. Grace facility located where Rainy Creek (just downstream from the mine) flows into the Kootenai River. Mr. Parker testified about a “tremendous amount” of concentrated (unexpanded) vermiculite at the screening plant site, due to the nature of the W.R. Grace operations (which had ceased well before he and his wife contemplated purchasing the property). He testified that no person from W.R. Grace informed him of the fact that the vermiculite contained asbestos, nor that anyone had informed him of its danger. He also testified the he and his wife had desired to use the vermiculite on their site due to its utility to the roots of growing trees. Mr. Parker testified that he and his wife “couldn’t ask for a better location” and that Stringer had orally agreed to “clean up” and “make [the site] pleasing.”
They ultimately closed the deal in December of 1993, after which W.R. Grace maintained a presence on the property, closing up and removing some minor buildings and equipment. McLean showed the deed for sale of the property, which bore the typewritten signature of defendant Robert Bettacchi. Mr. Parker also testified about his and his wife’s unsuccessful bids with W.R. Grace and Stringer to buy a different property, the “timberlands.” During this negotiation the Parkers met with defendant Jack Wolter.
McLean then shifted gears again and began asking more questions regarding the Parkers’ cleanup of the screening plant. Mr. Parker testified that he and three others needed three days to use brooms to sweep out the largest building at the screening plant, the “long shed.” With this statement, Judge Molloy called for the afternoon break.
- Mark Lancaster (posted 8:00 p.m.)