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Former Elizabeth Township landfill sold for $1.326 million

| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010

A former landfill in Elizabeth Township has sold for $1.326 million.

JJ Oil & Gas Inc. of McMurray became owner of the 550-acre property located off Henderson Road on Friday after bettering a competing firm, Behling Dixon Holdings of Canonsburg, in a high-stakes bidding showdown in Orphan's Court.

The property is part of the bankrupt estate of William M. Fiore, who died in 2003.

The deceased's son and grandson, David Fiore Sr. and David Fiore Jr., and two other parties also had submitted separate bids to purchase the property prior to a July 20 deadline. Orphan's Court Judge Robert A. Kelly decided to reopen the bidding process last month after the estate received additional, higher bids on the land.

At the hearing Thursday, David Fiore Jr. started the bidding by resubmitting the $400,000 offer he'd made this summer, but the process then was taken over by James C. Ellis of JJ Oil and Carl Behling of Behling Dixon. Ellis employed a strategy in which he, for the most part, would better by $10,000 every offer Behling made. For example, when Behling, who'd upped all his previous bids by intervals of $100,000 to $200,000, broke the $1 million mark, Ellis' counterbid was $1,010,000.

When Behling offered $1,325,000 and Ellis raised the bid to $1,326,000, the two men had a conference that lasted less than five minutes and ended with a handshake.

Ellis' final bid held and he was awarded the property with the provision that he put the first 10 percent of the purchase price down and pay the rest within 60 days.

The money from the sale of the land will go into an escrow account and eventually be used to pay back part of what is at least $5 million owed to creditors.

Two of the largest creditors to the estate are Elizabeth Township and the state Department of Revenue, which have long-standing liens against the estate valued at $1.5 million and $1.3 million, respectively.

People familiar with the land say it has high potential for natural gas exploration.

"I have nothing to say," Ellis said after the hearing when asked why the land was worth so much to him.

Behling said he'd been interested in buying the land because of a 20-unit trailer park located on part of the property. Behling has reportedly developed industrial areas before and as recently as October applied for a permit to construct a building over a reclaimed abandoned coal mine in Union Township, Washington County.

David Fiore Sr., who, with his brother Marshall Fiore, is an heir to his late father's estate, had wanted to turn part of the landfill into a solar electricity farm and use profits generated by the sale of electricity to pay back creditors 50 percent of what they are owed. In the initial round of bidding he made that as an offer but never submitted a cash offering as a bid. He attended the hearing Thursday but did not offer any additional bids.

"I'm pleased the creditors will get some of the proceeds," he said of the impending sale to JJ Oil.

David Fiore Jr., who was not involved with his father's plans to use the property as a solar farm nor an heir to the estate, said he would appeal the sale of the land because of the injustices suffered by his grandfather.

William M. Fiore was sentenced in 1986 to 12 years in prison for illegal dumping at the landfill. Three years later, he was convicted of plotting to kill Charles A. Durista, the former head of the state Department of Environmental Resources now known as the Department of Environmental Protection and sentenced to an additional five to 10 years.

The landfill owner until his death denied the murder-for-hire charge.

Elizabeth Township Solicitor John Rushford said he was surprised by the high bids the property received and thinks the outcome will be good for the township.

"It does mean we have a larger pot," Rushford said. "It's great because we may get some moneys on this."

Distribution of the money from the sale will be determined at a later hearing.

"I think everybody is going to be challenging everybody else's claims," said Estate Executor Charles P. Voelker, who noted that, though low debt estimates on the property put the amount owed between $5 million and $6 million, more liberal assessments raise the level owed to creditors to $17 million to $20 million.

Because of the extensive amount owed to creditors, "The heirs aren't going to get anything," said Voelker.

Two smaller parcels of land belonging to the Fiore estate also are being sold.

JJ Oil is purchasing a 60-acre site in Lincoln for $17,600.

A 9-acre site in Clairton was sold to Century Steel for $75,000.

Whatever plans JJ Oil has for the former landfill, the company will face some environmental hurtles in executing them. Disturbing the landfill for any enterprise requires modification of the DEP's closure plan and could be subject to a public comment period before approval.

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