A lawsuit claiming a Ruckersville man has been illegally operating a landfill on his property was filed in Greene County Circuit Court on Aug. 9, and he said he plans to fight it in court.
Kenneth Collier Sr., running as an independent candidate for sheriff this November, has operated a salvage yard on his 42-acre property off Carpenter’s Mill Road in Ruckersville since 1976. Collier said he received a permit from the state to operate the salvage yard. The state says it expired in 2014.
The lawsuit alleges Collier operated a solid waste disposal facility without a permit; discharges of stormwater associated with industrial activity without a permit; and disturbing more than one acre of land without the proper permit.
Since at least 2017, Collier has dumped solid waste on the site without proper permits, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, which is suing Collier, as are the Virginia Waste Management Board and the State Water Control Board.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Collier to shut down the landfill, to remove all waste from his property and dispose of it properly and to penalize Collier with the maximum allowable civil fines, which are up to $32,500 per day for each violation of each of the three charges—or up to $97,500 each day.
“This landfill has continued to operate illegally for years while its owner has blatantly ignored multiple violation notices from DEQ,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. “An illegal, do-it-yourself landfill like this can have serious negative environmental impacts on the surrounding land and water if it is not properly constructed, permitted and controlled.”
The lawsuit stems from a citizen’s 2017 complaint to the state DEQ. The complainant was worried that hundreds of dump trucks dropping solid waste on Collier’s property also might be polluting the site with lead and asbestos.
When DEQ staff members obtained a warrant to inspect Collier’s property, they found a roughly 1.38- acre fill area on the south end of the site that was between 12 and 20 feet deep. It was full of bricks, metal tubes and cables, pipes, insulation, glass and rebar, according to the suit.
One of Collier’s employees was grading the waste pile with a back loader and observed the inspectors, who also noted discarded storage tanks, appliances and junk cars scattered across the rest of Collier’s property, the suit states.
When inspectors asked Collier to provide more information about the site and evidence that he had checked the quality of water runoff, he did not respond, according to the lawsuit.
According to exhibits filed with the lawsuit, soil samples were taken in March 2018 and showed no asbestos but found many other types of metal including: aluminum; arsenic; cobalt; iron; manganese; vanadium; and copper.
Despite those inspections and visits from federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, Collier continued to accept brush, discarded vehicles and industrial waste as recently as this June, according to the suit.
Collier said he denies accepting discarded vehicles this year.
“Defendant continues to operate the site as an unlawful, unpermitted landfill,” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Bergin wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Collier said earlier this week that prior to his purchase of the first 32 acres previous landowners had burned trash. Additionally, he said the other 10 acres were used as a salvage yard for 20 years before he became the owner of the land.
The 2017 complaint was just the latest in decades of complaints about the property, according to the lawsuit.
Over the years, Collier repeatedly was served notice for burying mulch and tree debris, construction waste and demolition debris, and each time promised to fix the problem, the suit states.
In 2012, DEQ inspected the site and saw that Collier was working to clean it up. It did not conduct a follow-up visit.
Virginia law regulates dumps and landfills in an effort to control the hazardous waste that can leach into the soil and water from such areas. It also regulates “land-disturbing” activities, which means moving more than one acre of land in a way that changes stormwater runoff. N
o hearings have been set yet in the case. Collier has qualified to appear as an independent candidate for Greene County sheriff on the Nov. 5 ballot. He will face current Sheriff Steve Smith, an independent, and the Republican nominee Spurgeon “Billy” W. Wade III.