Longform

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK

But the condemnation process does not require the state to pay a landowner for a property's potential or the dreams of grandeur harbored by a developer. Just compensation is considered the value of the property at the moment it is appraised. The state's appraisers came onto Gabrielli's land and saw sand and trash, a few buildings worth less than the cost to drag them down. Gabrielli's appraiser, Quinn Hutchinson, saw a special and unique purpose facility" that would be difficult to duplicate. Gabrielli says he didn't want to move, but his business couldn't survive the state's taking of the strip for the Hohokam. He says he needed more space than the partial taking would have allowed him. And if he had to move, the state should factor in the costs of finding a similar site, as well as moving his equipment.

They appraised my land as dirt only," he says bitterly. No buildings, they said they were valueless. I am so sick of listening to this bullshit. To me, it's like building a paper mill. The buildings aren't normal buildings, the receiving docks are not normal receiving docks, the discharge, the water effluence, all that stuff's different-I've got to go out and find a comparable site. In the meantime, I've got no income."

Gene Gabrielli, the green technocrat who made his money off other people's garbage, didn't see any other choice than to take his case to court. So he hired a lawyer to argue that his property was worth more than what the state said it was worth. In Arizona, even if Gabrielli wins, he will have to bear his own legal fees. Under state law, the costs of defending a condemnation suit are not compensable. Gabrielli would have to pay his own lawyers. ²(Foster Mori, Gabrielli's present lawyer, has taken the case on a contingency basis. If the jury in the condemnation trial awards Gabrielli more than the $411,500 offered by the state, Mori will receive a percentage of the award in excess of the offer.)

The state did agree to assist Gabrielli in finding a new location and pay part of the cost of moving his equipment. But he says the state couldn't find a suitable site. And that it has been extremely slow in reimbursing him for moving costs.

My lawyers told me not to say this, but I don't give a shit," Gabrielli says. Those people stretch you. It's beyond the imagination; these people are trying to kill me. They're not taking a gun to my head, they're not stabbing me, but they're running me dry, my family, all my work and everythingÏthis is preposterous."

He says he believes the state will try to settle his case before it goes to trial, but even if he is awarded a figure closer to his estimate of his land's value than the state's estimate, he still may be held liable for the mounting cleanup costs. He could win, and still wind up in debt.

Gabrielli is now bankrupt, though he still has his gray-market Mercedes Benz and is planning a grand opening for the new location of Ecology Companies within a few weeks. He has cashed in his life insurance policy and borrowed money from family members to pay his attorneys. Even before things got complicatedÏbefore the workers broke into that pesticide-filled concrete sump-things were grim.

My wife and I were down to a hundred dollars once-we'd never ever been to that point," he says. I had more money in my pocket when I started in 1973 than I did when they condemned my land."

NOBODY REALLY THINKS Gene Gabrielli is responsible for poisoning the land. As ADOT's Tom Sullivan says, It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there was a chemical company there, and that's where it came from."

But the state is arguing that, as the landowner, Gabrielli is responsible for cleanup costs. Even though he didn't put the chemicals in the ground, and even though he didn't crack open the sump and let them leak out, he can be held responsible. Even though the state ignored the presence of Olin Mathieson on the land, even though there was no thorough environmental investigation undertaken until after the sump was broken, the state is holding the money it would have paid Gabrielli for the land in escrow, against the cleanup costs.

Of course, ADOT has also been in contact with the chemical company. Though no one at Olin Mathieson would comment because of the litigation swirling around the case, both the state and Gabrielli say the company has been helpful in sorting out the mess.

They've been very cooperative," Sullivan says. They know we've got a problem, and they're willing to work with us. It's in everybody's interest."

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Philip Martin