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City Fights Recycler After Fragrant Spill

The saluting soldier familiar to I-95 motorists marks the location of Peter Moliterno's grease recycling business, now condemned by the city.

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For one year, Moliterno operated a business that turned restaurant grease into fuel for industrial boilers. His property, the Chesapeake Biofuel Co. in South Side Richmond, is the one featuring a containment tank with a painted soldier that is visible from I-95. Three months ago, Moliterno says, he was unloading a truck, a big tank trailer containing diluted perfume and ethanol, or grain alcohol. He got the liquid free, he says, from a perfumery in New Jersey that used the ethanol to flush out its manufacturing lines. Moliterno planned to blend the mixture with his grease to lower its melting point.

During the transfer, a hose came off and 15 gallons of the perfume spilled on the ground, creating a mess Moliterno says he promptly cleaned up. He says he called the neighboring business, a fuel terminal, to let them know about the spill, which he describes as smelling strong but pleasant. Without telling him, his neighbors called the fire department, which reported Moliterno to the city, which then sent inspectors that cited him for building code violations. "Everyone kind of piled on," he says.

The city's Department of Community Development, which oversees inspections, permits and planning, sent Moliterno "a laundry list of violations" and told him to close his business until everything was brought up to code.

Claude Cooper, the city's commissioner of buildings, says: "We have condemned the site and people don't have access to the site because of the dangers down there."

Moliterno was willing to fix the violations, he says, although he thought some of the city's requests silly — like installing a vent in the bathroom and hanging a no-smoking sign. About a month later, Moliterno says, something bizarre happened when, to comply with the city, he hired a work crew to remove some tanks on his property. While the crew was doing the job, he says, the workers were arrested for trespassing.

Also, Moliterno says, he sent in an application for a $200 certificate of zoning compliance he needs to reopen his facility. He maintains that the city held onto it for 11 weeks before turning him down because there was "not enough information."

Moliterno says he hasn't broken any laws and is frustrated by the department's "Byzantine rules" and the long delay in telling him what's going on. "They won't meet with me, they won't respond to me," he says.

Cooper says he cannot comment further, because "there's a lot of legal issues on this one." Diane Abato, the commonwealth's attorney overseeing the case, will say only, "It is a pending investigation." — M.S.S.

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