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Havelock, North Carolina Site Brings Worries of Contamination

As reported:

There’s certainly no glowing nuclear waste. Dioxin is doubtful. And as for other varied carcinogens, who knows?

It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that making up the debris at the old Phoenix landfill site at Tucker Creek.

But the truth is no one really knows with any certainty if the heaping pile of rusting and decaying metal and construction debris is hazardous.

Havelock commissioners saw a video on the dump Monday night. Diane Miller, the city’s grant manager and public information officer, put the video together.

Since the 34-acre Phoenix Recycling Corporation site near Havelock’s west end was shut down in 2000, it has been unmanned and free for people to enter and dump whatever they wanted, free of charge and out of sight.

“God knows what’s in it,” said Miller. “Nobody’s been out there in 10 years.”

Today, 10-year-old pines, tall weeds and a canopy of kudzu cover vast portions of the many piles of refuse, generally divided among metals, cardboard, plastics and wood. Small rainwater runoff streams emanate from the heaps. The wet ground is stained brown and copper-colored, with an unmistakable oily sheen pointing the way of the waterways.

Included on the metal piles are industrial electric transformers. At least one mangled transformer oozed goo of undetermined toxicity.

“This is something that is disconcerting,” Miller said as she walked through the unnatural landscape in rubber boots recently. “It’s an active drain basin. Who knows where it is going. It’s just going into coastal waters. The biggest concern for us is groundwater contamination.”

A 2005 report indicated that the site had no hazardous materials, but that same report mentions the finding doesn’t mean hazards wouldn’t be found in the future. That was the last assessment done of the site.

The dump, which opened in 1993, was closed by the state in 2000. The companies operating the site have dissolved, leaving back taxes and tons of debris. The property is in foreclosure and could soon end up under ownership of Craven County.

City leaders want to create a park at the site, but an assessment of hazardous materials and a cleanup estimated at $2 million are the first steps.

The highest and broadest feature in the landfill is a massive mound of chipped wood from which one can see the entire acreage.

A well-worn ATV path from the direction of MacDonald Downs seems to indicate there has been some visitation of the site by residents of the adjacent subdivision.

“Kids are kids. There’s nothing you can do to keep kids out where they want to go,” Miller said. “We just want people around here to be safe.”

While the danger from cuts and scrapes on rusty metal shards may be an invitation to tetanus, city officials worry of possible unseen dangers hidden among the estimated 150,000 cubic yards of unprocessed material at the site.

In 2004, Havelock contracted to have two environmental assessments done on the Phoenix site for $44,000. Several test wells were dug to determine the toxicity of groundwater.

In February 2005, the firm Tritech Civil Environmental reported that metals including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium were found in samples from the groundwater wells.

The report also found concentrations for chromium and lead exceeded N.C. Department of Natural Resources groundwater quality standards. However, the report indicated that the levels could be natural and not as a result of the dump.

Tritech installed six methane gas detection wells and recommended that 13 be installed to monitor the site. Methane gas was detected in half of the six wells in 2004.

“We are of the opinion that there are currently no toxic or hazardous chemicals in the various media at the site that could adversely affect human health or the environment based on existing regulatory standards provided the facility is properly developed into a recreation facility,” the report found.

Tritech recommended quarterly monitoring for the first three years and semi-annual monitoring for the next six years after that. Miller said no such monitoring program was ever conducted.

The city sent letters July 21 to members of Havelock’s legislative delegation that spell out the timeline of the landfill and ask for the members to make a personal visit to the site.

“I honestly believe that even the casual observer looking at that would say something’s wrong. This is a step in the right direction,” Mayor Jimmy Sanders said Monday night.

Commissioner Will Lewis said the city did not create the dump but is trying to take steps to fix it even though the property is not within city limits.

“We are dedicated to spearheading the efforts, but it is not the city of Havelock’s dump,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to fix it. We just don’t have the millions of dollars to clean up the site.”

If you have an environmental law question, call the lawyers at Hendren and Malone, PLLC.

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