Dump slump: County cleanup called misguided
To some Keswick residents, the cleanup of the county's most infamous illegal dump is going backwards. First came debris removal; now comes soil and groundwater testing under a plan mandated by the Department of Environmental Quality.
"DEQ has the phasing all backwards," claims attorney David Bailey, hired by neighbors to ensure a thorough cleanup of the 16-acre dump operated by Doris and Cecil Gardner at the couple's Campbell Road property.
While the waste facility operated for decades without permits, it received fresh attention last January when the owners lost control of a backyard burn.
Bailey attacks the agency's failure, according to his interpretation of state law, to test the site before refuse was removed. Moreover, adds Pat Napoleon, the dump's closest neighbor, the agency isn't mandating sufficient testing.
While three wells, including Napoleon's, have already earned a clean bill of health, Bailey says the chosen wells are no indicator of groundwater movement. He argues that the government's own topographic maps suggest that water would have to move uphill to reach those wells.
Under the plan finalized Monday, December 12, disposal sites are identified only by visual inspection and the owner's accounts.
"A plan which targets only known disposal sites has absolutely no validity," Bailey argues in a letter to DEQ official Jed Pascarella. Bailey contends that the DEQ concedes that topsoil has been "moved around over time."
Pascarella declined to respond to the lawyer's criticism.
Shortly after buying the 16-acre property in 1969, the Gardners began running a backyard dump – storing, burying, and burning everything from roofing materials and liquid wastes to the metal carcasses of automobiles and appliances. Napoleon suspects the county finds itself in an awkward position on enforcement since the dump was known for years to Albemarle authorities who allowed it to exist without regulation.
In meetings with County officials, family members have stated that the Gardners are self-styled "scavengers" who can't afford full-scale cleanup of their property, according to County records.
The neighbors believe that alleged third-party dumpers should pitch in. County documents indicate that Gardner family members identified Cecil Gardner's longtime employer, W.A. Lynch Roofing, as responsible for much of the construction debris.
While the roofer denies responsibility, president William A. Lynch said in a statement that the company has offered to help remove materials– but only because Cecil Gardner was a "loyal, long-time employee."
County zoning administrator Amelia McCulley says the county will pursue other responsible parties only if the Gardners "cease to make progress."
But because the County waited so long, Bailey contents, "That chance is pretty much lost."
Pascarella says his agency does "believe some of the waste material was from Lynch Roofing," but when it comes to the cleanup tab, "DEQ looks to the property owner."
Even if the Gardners are required to carry out testing, Bailey says, their inability to pay "does not alleviate the responsibility of DEQ to determine contamination."
When contacted for this story, Doris Gardner said her neighbors are making the situation sound worse than it is. But then she cut off the conversation, saying, "Don't call me anymore."
Already, neighbors question specifics of the cleanup. On November 8, Napoleon says, she witnessed an "unsecured, tractor-trailer size load" leaving the Gardner property. Shortly thereafter, she discovered "a huge chunk of metal in the road that could have killed someone."
County zoning administrator Louise Wyatt concedes that the Gardners have done some hauling themselves, and, as the couple owns another 12-acre parcel behind their 16-acre dump, neighbors fear the trash could wind up in another unregulated location.
Pascarella disputes any suggestion that the owners may have moved wastes to avoid detection, citing "a lack of evidence" such as bulldozer tracks or freshly turned earth. He says he's also been in touch with the Ivy Landfill and confirmed that the Gardners have deposited trash there, though no records have been released to verify how much or how often.
Napoleon says she has suggested a simple solution: collect receipts for every truckload of trash hauled away. However, county and state officials have never wavered from their plan to collect documentation only for "high-priority" materials such as asbestos.
"Typically we require those receipts," says Pascarella. The DEQ has made a concession, he says, because the Gardners have dealt with them in an "open and forthright manner." The agency, he adds, has "no reason not to believe" the owners are depositing the waste in a regulated landfill.
Many neighbors, but no roofing company reps, spoke at the June 29 community meeting.
FILE PHOTO BY DEREK PELL
Pat Napoleon, one of the outspoken neighbors, speaks her mind.
FILE PHOTO BY DEREK PELL
The illegal dump was the subject of the Hook's June 16 cover story.