I’ve been sitting here for the past four hours trying to find the words to explain today’s proceedings that ended in the sale of the Huber Breaker. It would be easy to transcribe / summarize my 12 pages of notes – legal terminology and name misspellings not withstanding – but that only tells a part of the story.
Let me cut to the chase – rip off the bandage so we can figure out where to go from here. Judge John Thomas approved the sale of the Huber Breaker to Angelo Franco, owner of Paselo Logistics, LLC / Green Earth Recycling / Toppoint Recycling, all which appear to be housed at the same address in Philadelphia. The ruling came down just before 1 p.m. on Aug. 22 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Wilkes-Barre.
While not unexpected, the decision is nevertheless disheartening, especially since the proceedings seemed to drag out – not just in the four hours spent in the courtroom today, but over the last several years.
I’ll save the history lesson for another time. For now, I’ll do my best to recap today’s proceedings. A great big THANK YOU to Citizen’s Voice correspondent Paul Golias for helping me navigate some of the courtroom lingo during a 20-minute break. Here it goes…
Franco placed the only viable bid in the amount of $1.275 million for the 26 acres of land and assets, which include the breaker. The property, formerly owned by Al Roman of No. 1 Contracting, has been in bankruptcy court since March 2010, first as a chapter 11 filing, and now as chapter 7. The state-appointed trustee, attorney Michael Oleyar, and his lawyer found the bid acceptable after reviewing bank statements and other supporting materials.
Through his attorney, Roman objected to the bid, primarily on the grounds that the buyer’s estimate for environmental remediation was not sufficient. While this estimate was part of Franco’s bid submission, the file was deemed confidential. However, a cross examination of Oleyar by Roman’s attorney revealed that the buyer’s estimate is significantly less than the million dollar figure cited in the report attached to Roman’s objection. Oleyar also revealed that he does not have a dollar figure in writing from BATTA, the environmental firm hired by the buyer.
Interestingly, the judge himself expressed surprise that the EPA or DEP were not involved. He stated, “Once an environmental red flag is raised, state agencies will have the first shot to file an environmental claim against the property.” Hmmmmm…..
Another part of Oleyar’s cross examination introduced an additional buyer, one who had previously sent a check in the amount of $375,000 to the estate to “abandon assets” back to No. 1 Contracting. In return, this buyer, a Mr. Ciuccio, would receive first consideration on salvaging assets found on the property (i.e. the breaker). Roman’s attorney argued that the $375,000 is a higher bid because of the trustee’s “carve out agreement,” which means that, given the number of liens on the property, the estate would get $200,000 from the $1.275 million purchase price.
Does your head hurt yet?
The judge stated that, since he already approved the bid prior to the hearing, the only reason he can reject a sale is if he deems it to be unfair. So after four hours (which did include some other cases – the proceedings of which I found fascinating), the judge ruled the bid to be fair and viable, made in good faith with due diligence – thus overruling Roman’s objection and approving the sale as presented.
And just like that, it was over. The attorneys enclosed themselves in a side room to draft terms, and the people who poured their hearts and souls into preserving the breaker exited the courtroom visibly deflated.
I had the privilege of sitting next to Ray Clark, chairman of the Huber Breaker Preservation Society Board of Directors, during today’s proceedings. His passion for the breaker’s preservation fueled the phase I completion of the Miners’ Memorial Park earlier this year. The park, which sits on 3.1 acres of land owned by the Huber Breaker Preservation Society, is home to a stone monument and benches. But Ray has grand plans and a vision for that park – a vision that he hopes will still incorporate some fashion of preservation.
At the judge’s ruling, Ray’s reaction – shaken, yet stoic – left me feeling like someone punched me in the gut. It made it all too real, and, quite frankly, nearly impossible for me to put on the façade of a journalist getting a story. Over the past 15 months, Ray and dozens of others – Bill, Robert, Bob, Sue, and Phil among them – have become our friends, our Ashley family. Their fight is more than a story.
As Ray walked down the courtroom steps today, he turned to us and, after a pause, said, “I guess I’ll be in the park.” I’ve replayed that moment a hundred times in my head, and I truly think it’s one of those memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Yet – before I get too sappy – the fight isn’t quite over. The sale takes 25 days to be finalized. People are already getting mobilized, and we’ll be there – continuing to tell the story, wherever it may lead us.