CHARLESTON, WV -- Companies at the heart of the recent massive chemical leak received permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, despite not having valid business licenses.
It appears as though "Poca Blending LLC" and "Etowah River Terminal LLC" continued conducting business in connection to Freedom Industries during that time frame.
Both Etowah River Terminal LLC and Poca Blending LLC were administratively dissolved in August 2005, said Jake Glance, a spokesman for the West Virginia secretary of state.
A new Etowah River Terminal LLC was created on Nov. 15, 2011, and a new Poca Blending LLC was created Nov. 26, 2013, according to documents filed with the secretary of state.
Both merged under Freedom in December 2013. Both are the only places listed on Freedom's website where the corporation is located or does business.
The number listed on the permit the state says it issued to Freedom actually corresponds with the permit issued to "Etowah River Terminal LLC" in 2009.
Neither Etowah nor Poca Blending should have been conducting any business during that time frame other than what was needed to "wind down" operations, said Ashley Summitt, chief counsel for the secretary of state.
Despite losing their business licenses, the DEP's Division of Water and Waste Management issued permits to Etowah and Poca Blending during the time frame.
That's because the division doesn't check to see if a business is legally allowed to conduct normal business in West Virginia before issuing a permit, confirmed DEP spokesman Tom Aluise.
"It isn't specified in state code that a valid business license is needed to obtain a permit," Aluise said Sunday in an email.
Aluise said other entities in the DEP — the Office of Oil and Gas, the Division of Mining and Reclamation and the Division of Air Quality — do "verify valid business licenses in the permit review stages."
The Division of Air Quality found no violations in June of 2009 when it inspected the Etowah site after someone made an odor complaint. The site inspection report lists the facility as a limited liability company, and makes no mention it didn't have a business license at the time.
Aluise told the Daily Mail that Division of Air Quality inspectors don't verify business licenses during inspections.
The water and waste management division is different than other DEP entities because it issues permits to individuals and businesses, Aluise argued.
"For example, a homeowner with an aeration system that treats wastewater and discharges into waters of the state would need a permit," he said in an email Sunday.
On Jan. 9, the DEP discovered thousands of gallons of chemicals leaking from a faulty storage tank owned by Freedom. The tank sat feet from the Elk River, at a site known as the Etowah River Terminal.
After the leak the DEP ordered Freedom to move the remaining chemicals from the Etowah site to a new, safe location. Freedom chose Poca Blending, a Nitro-based limited liability company.
Officials also found a slew of violations at the Poca Blending site: It lacked adequate safety containment measures in the event of another spill, there was no record of employee training since 2004 and proper emergency procedures were lacking.
By the time the leak was discovered, Etowah and Poca Blending had officially merged with Freedom. Both companies were founded by former Freedom executives, and appear to have done work in relation to Freedom for years.
Carl Kennedy founded Poca Blending LLC in 1999, and Dennis Farrell officially founded Etowah River Terminal LLC in 2001, according to documents filed with the West Virginia secretary of state. Kennedy and Farrell are some of the original executives of Freedom Industries.
Both businesses were "administratively dissolved" by the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office in August 2005 for failing to file annual reports.