"This was pretty hardcore," says Peter Van der Linde, shown here in happier times.
Spike holes drained fuel from Van der Linde's trucks and disabled the tanks.
Courtesy of the Newsplex
After fending off a former employee-turned-extortionist, a $20 million government-filed RICO lawsuit, and dozens of bogus complaints filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde thought the "waste war" was over. But a Memorial Day weekend attack has sabotaged his entire fleet of trucks and tractors– and taken that war to a new level.
"This wasn't a shot across the bow; they were trying to take us out," says Van der Linde, noting that not a single vehicle was left operable.
According to the silver-haired entrepreneur, who discovered the damage when he came to work on Monday morning, May 30, all 26 company vehicles on site had been disabled with holes gouged in radiators, gas tanks, and hydraulic lines.
"This was pretty hardcore," says Van der Linde, describing the attack as demonstrating "SWAT-like precision."
The spillage of fuel, hydraulic fluid, and anti-freeze was so severe that the Virginia DEQ really needed to be called this time– to oversee cleanup of the contaminated soil.
In addition to the tens of thousands of dollars he thinks will be spent for property clean-up and vehicle repair, Van der Linde– who says he's waiting for an exact estimate– notes that he plans to shell out even more money for a surveillance system to prevent future attacks.
Heading up the investigation, Lt. David Wells of the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office says officials are working to develop leads and motives for the destruction but says it's too early to say who committed the crime– or why. But there are plenty of hints.
Since Van der Linde broke ground on his $11 million Materials Recovery Facility in Zion Crossroads in 2008, there have been multiple battles. First came anonymous complaints to the DEQ, complaints that one state agent called "extremely frustrating" because they were all unfounded, designed solely "to irritate Mr. Van der Linde."
The DEQ agent suspected that other players in the trash business were angry because Van der Linde's facility would divert waste from the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority as well as from large corporate haulers like Allied/Republic Services and Waste Management. None could be reached for comment by the time of this post.
Next came the RSWA's $20 million lawsuit. Led by executive director Tom Frederick and RSWA counsel Kurt Krueger, the suit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and accused Van der Linde of deliberately defrauding the local trash authority by having his drivers lie about the origin of their trash.
Then there was the attempted extortion by the RSWA's main witness, former Van der Linde driver Richard Wade Kendrick, who was eventually convicted of trying to extort $90,000 from Van der Linde and sentenced to a year in jail. The RSWA eventually dropped the suit and settled out of court, with Van der Linde agreeing to pay $600,000 and the RSWA's corporate partner Allied/Republic agreeing to pay $300,000.
Meanwhile, Van der Linde's MRF, or Materials Recovery Facility, was quickly transforming the local trash business. Deemed the region's "cleanest" by the DEQ, Van der Linde's MRF has been a boon for plucky local haulers like Dixon and Time Disposal by allowing them to offer convenient combined trash/recycling, so-called "single-stream recycling."
Even the City of Charlottesville– once a quasi-party to the RICO lawsuit– has since contracted with Van der Linde. And a few days from now, UVA is expected to make a decision about breaking from years of corporate-hauling tradition and letting its waste go to the MRF.
Van der Linde says he's been scrambling to find replacement vehicles, but this assault is clearly a major blow.
"They tried to take us down," says Van der Linde, "and we did go down. But I think we're on the comeback trail."
Anyone with information on the crime is encouraged to contact the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office at 434-589-8211 or the Jefferson Area Crimestoppers at 434-977-4000.
"I just wanted to recycle, thought it would be good for the environment," says Van der Linde, shaken by the war's escalation from courtroom to carnage. "But I guess this is what you get when you take food from a dog when he's still eating."