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Cogeneration fire file

Santa Maria Fire Department crews exit a cogeneration plant at Marian Regional Medical Center in this Aug. 5, 2017, file photo. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office announced Friday a settlement with J&A-Santa Maria, which operates the facility and admitted liability for multiple environmental violations.

A pair of Santa Maria companies and their manager agreed to more than $100,000 in fines and fees stemming from an August 2017 fire at a Santa Maria cogeneration facility that prompted a hazmat response, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office announced Friday.

J&A-Santa Maria operates a co-generation station — a facility that uses gas to generate both heat and electricity — at Marian Regional Medical Center campus in Santa Maria.

The gas burned at the facility is provided by J&A-Santa Maria II, which runs a methane capture and transport facility at the Santa Maria Regional Landfill.

Both companies are managed by Alan Janechek, and all three were named in a civil suit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria on Nov. 21, 2018.

Santa Maria Fire crews who responded to the Aug. 5, 2017, blaze at the cogeneration facility were forced to pull back over concern about methane gas and other unknown chemicals in the building.

J&A-Santa Maria had not submitted a hazardous materials business plan to the state, according to the District Attorney's Office, and firefighters were unsure what was burning and how to extinguish the blaze.

With assistance from the Hazardous Materials Division of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, crews were able to shut off the methane pipeline and extinguish the fire.

A subsequent investigation by county officials revealed violations of multiple environmental protection statutes, the District Attorney's Office said.

Hazardous waste containers were improperly labeled and kept closed, spill prevention plans regarding petroleum storage were not prepared, and hazardous materials business plans were not provided to the state.

“These violations threatened the safety of the public, first responders, hospital personnel and landfill personnel," District Attorney Joyce Dudley said in a statement. "This is an example of the dangerous, real-world implications of the failure to comply with environmental statutes.”

In addition to admitting liability for the incident, J&A agreed to $83,450 in civil penalties and $19,500 for reimbursements to the agencies that investigated and responded to the incident.

An injunction is also included in the agreement to ensure future compliance with provisions of the state's Health and Safety Code.

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Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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