Second man pleads in hazardous waste case

Grafton resident who was charged after high lead levels found at Port treatment plant guilty of a felony
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The second of two men charged with violating hazardous waste laws after high levels of lead detected at the Port Washington Wastewater Treatment Plant were traced to a repurposed factory in the city has pleaded guilty in a case brought by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. 

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Steve Cain accepted the plea from Robert A. Strange of Grafton and found him guilty of one felony count of storing hazardous waste without a license during a Jan. 6 hearing.

Cain withheld a prison sentence, placed Strange on probation for four years and ordered him to serve 60 days in the county jail as a condition of probation. 

Six other felony charges of transporting hazardous waste to a facility that does not have a license were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Strange and Bernard J. Bannon of Port Washington owned and operated the battery recycling business Braxt Corp. in a factory property Bannon owned at 740 W. Oakland Ave., and in May 2020 were charged with violating hazardous waste laws. 

Bannon reached a plea deal with prosecutors that called for him to cooperate with the Department of Justice in its case against Strange if needed and last month pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of violating asbestos removal and disposal laws.

A third charge of violating hazardous waste storage laws was dismissed at the request of prosecutors as part of the plea agreement but was read into the record, which means Cain can consider it when sentencing Bannon on Feb. 14.

Still at issue is the amount of restitution that Bannon and Strange owe the City of Port Washington, which sources say could be substantial. City officials have declined to discuss how the city incurred those costs or how much they amount to because the case is pending. 

A restitution hearing is scheduled for April 28.

The case dates to 2017 when a routine test of sludge at the wastewater treatment plant showed it contained levels of lead “well in excess” of what is allowed by the city’s permit, according to a criminal complaint. 

The lead was traced to the former factory owned by Bannon and his wife and operated as PW Industrial Spaces. 

The factory space was divided and leased as “suites,” one of which was used by Braxt Corp. to dismantle lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries. The battery components — sulfuric acid stored in 275-gallon totes, lead plates and plastic cases, all classified as hazardous waste — were stored on site until Bannon and Strange could find buyers for them or dispose of them, according to court documents. 

During a search of Bannon’s property, authorities discovered asbestos pipe insulation that had been removed during renovations supervised by Bannon, who intentionally failed to notify the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of the removal and failed to follow emission control and waste treatment regulations, according to the plea agreement. 

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Liegel is recommending that Cain sentence Bannon to one year in jail but stay the sentence and place him on probation for 18 months. That means that Bannon would only have to serve time behind bars if he violates the conditions of probation.

Liegel is asking that, in addition to paying restitution to the city, Bannon be ordered to clean up the property and operate it in compliance with state and federal laws, identify for authorities all tenants of his property and the nature of their businesses and not own or operate a battery dismantling or recycling business or lease space for such an operation. 

Strange, as conditions of his probation, is prohibited from owning any business that deals with hazardous waste and must identify all businesses he has an ownership interest in. 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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