County to sue Cismont dump owners
Since Albemarle County "officially" discovered a junkyard in January 2005 after a major fire– even though the property had been generating complaints as far back as 1976– the owners have been working on cleaning up the site.
All that ended with an inspection January 10. Today, Albemarle announced it will be seeking civil penalties of around $5,000 against Cecil and Doris Gardner after they missed a December 31, 2007, deadline set by the Board of Supervisors for a full cleanup. [At left is an aerial view, date unknown, of the Gardner property from the county's website.]
"There's been significant progress," says County spokeswoman Lee Catlin, who stressed the County had been seeking voluntary compliance to clean up the dump rather than litigation, and had extended a deadline in June to December.
"The county felt that voluntary compliance had run its course as far as being effective, and it was time for an enforcement approach," says Catlin.
All of the hazardous materials on the Gardners' 16-acre Campbell Road property were removed immediately, according to Catlin, and county staff describes what remains as "junk," including inoperable vehicles, car parts, and a quantity of wood that can't be legally burned, albeit grouped at several different staging areas as if assembled for pickup.
Litigation could limit access to the site and could take a year or more. "We lose the great majority of our ability to control the timeline," Catlin notes. The County will file in Albemarle General District Court and seek a court-imposed cleanup.
"[M]y family has done nothing we consider wrong, illegal, or to hurt the environment," writes Linda Shifflett, the Gardners' daughter, in a statement on behalf of her family. "My father has always been big on recycling everything, not just setting it out on the curb and let[ting] it go to the landfill."
She contends that "99.999 percent" of the material found on her parents' property was metal slated for recycling, and the remainder was plastic or rubber attached to whatever was being recycled–- "not a bunch of trash."
Shifflett attributes the county's civil action to neighbor complaints over the years, which she calls "very personal," and she decries the "harassment" of her septuagenarian parents. "How many other zoning violations have gotten this much attention and even have a weekly email update because of the constant hounding?" she asks.
"I would not characterize this as the result of pressure from neighbors," says Catlin, whose office has prepared frequent emails about the situation.
Neighbors such as Snookie Wawner, who lives next door to the Gardners, remain skeptical of the latest county action. "I don't think it will do much good," he says. "My major concern is the county not doing its job."
"The county should now equally enforce the closure of all identified illegal dumps," says former neighbor Pat Napoleon. "This leadership in the county is long overdue."