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Hotel gets 30 more days for criminal case

A downtown Ashland hotel that city officials say illegally discharged water containing potentially fish-killing toxins into Ashland Creek in November during an equipment malfunction has gained a 30-day extension in its criminal case.

The Ashland Springs Hotel on Thursday sought and received an extension delaying a planned Tuesday appearance in Ashland Municipal Court on a single charge of placing offensive substances in water.

The charge is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $6,250.

The charge stems from an incident on Nov. 19, when the hotel's heating and air-conditioning unit overflowed, causing water treated with algae-killing chemicals to flush out of the unit, down a drain and into the street outside the hotel at 212 E. Main St., authorities said.

The water then flowed into a city storm drain that flows directly into Ashland Creek near the Main Street bridge, city officials said.

Since then, the hotel has completed a temporary fix to ensure a similar overflow would not occur and sought a delay in the criminal case to install more improvements before appearing in court, said hotel General Manager Don Anway.

"I'm looking at having a permanent fix with this issue so we never have to worry about it again," Anway said.

Assistant City Attorney Doug McGeary, who has handled the case, said he welcomed the extension to create more time for his office to investigate the case, such as determining how much of the tainted water reached the storm drain and whether the chemicals posed a risk or harmed anything in the creek.

"We don't want to walk into it with unanswered questions," McGeary said. "Nothing's going away, as far as I'm concerned."

Hotel officials have admitted that there were two incidents of water flowing into the storm drain that day — once during the malfunction and later when hotel maintenance crews cleaned up.

The water contained algae-killing chemicals listed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as toxic and labeled as such on the containers, according to Ashland police.

Neither police nor city officials at the time contacted the state Department of Environmental Quality or the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife about the spill.

The criminal complaint against the hotel was filed Dec. 12.

The city followed a similar procedure in municipal court last year when an Oregon Shakespeare Festival employee dumped latex paint into a storm drain that also flowed into Ashland Creek.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.