By Wendy Holdren
A 74-year-old Raleigh County man was found guilty this month of three counts of operating an open dump at his property on Fitzpatrick Road, a problem which some say has been going on for over 10 years.
Charles Keller said, “This is my property and I can put anything I want on it.”
His Fitzpatrick Road property houses several junked automobiles, an old camper, multiple large black trash bags, old floral arrangements, scrap metal, lumber and various other items.
Sherrie Hunter, director of education for the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, said the Keller property has been an issue since 2002.
She said she received a letter from a neighbor who said their property value had been lowered because they lived next to an open dump.
“We only get one chance at a first impression when visitors come into Raleigh County,” Hunter said. “What do people think when they drive past Fitzpatrick Road?”
Hunter hosts several county and city litter sweeps each year and she said she takes the Department of Environmental Protection’s message to heart, to strive for a “clean, green community.”
“I can’t erect a wall around their house,” Hunter said. “It isn’t right that our citizens see that.”
In April 2007, the DEP’s Pollution Prevention and Open Dump Program held a clean-up project at the property, which cost $24,349.
Nearly 11 tons of “trash” was removed, including two tons of steel, eight appliances and 34 tires.
Pollution Prevention and Open Dump Program Manager Gregory Rote said, “It was a last resort. The courts got us involved.”
Rote said the PPOD Program spends about $1 million on projects each year and cleans approximately 1,100 sites. The DEP website reports 15,000 open dumps throughout the state.
“We don’t deal with residential sites that much,” Rote said, noting that the program only gets involved if there are environmental concerns.
“It’s our job to protect human health and the environment.”
He said items left at residential dump sites could bring rats, mice and mosquitoes, and many complaints are made about open dumps all across the state.
When PPOD intervenes at a residence, Rote said it is more for the benefit of the neighbors, as enforcement officials often have a difficult time proving items on a site are “trash.”
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Rote said. “It’s hard to delineate.”
Keller said he sees his property as more of a trading post than an open dump.
“I’m a d-----d old horse trader. I trade for anything if it goes my way, like I traded my ’dozer off the other day... If I considered it an open dump, the trash trucks would be dumping in here.”
He said even if he wanted to clean up his property, he isn’t able to; he said he hasn’t been able to drive in over three years, on doctor’s orders.
“I’m on disability. I have heart trouble,” Keller said.
“It’s all I can do to walk. I can’t carry nothing or lift nothing. They’ve fined the wrong person.”
Keller was ordered Oct. 2 to pay a $300 fine, $100 for each count of operating an open dump, and will be sentenced to 90 days at Southern Regional Jail if he does not have his property cleaned up by his next court appearance in December.
“They’re putting the wrong person in jail is all I can tell you,” Keller said. “I’m not guilty of any of it besides the cars and trucks. There’s a pile of lumber and it’s not going anywhere.”
“It’s supposed to be a free country. I’ll be d-----d if it’s free, you’ve got to pay for everything you do. If you build (an outhouse), you’ve got to get a permit. It ain’t like it used to be. They don’t need all these laws pushing on these poor people.”
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