A lawyer with the state attorney general’s office was in Greene County Circuit Court on Dec. 2 asking the judge to assist the state in getting proper information, documentation and answers in a case against a Ruckersville man the state claims has been operating an illegal landfill on his property.
The Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Waste Management Board and the State Water Quality Board jointly filed the lawsuit on Aug. 9 against Kenneth Collier Sr., who lost his bid for Greene County sheriff in November. Collier was not present for the scheduled motion’s hearing on Dec. 2. He is listed as representing himself in the matter.
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.
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 for each day he remains in violation.
Christopher E. Bergin Jr., assistant attorney general in the environmental protection section, filed the motion to compel on Nov. 18 after he said Collier failed to answer plaintiff’s interrogatories in the lawsuit, even after he sent a letter to Collier explaining why the answers were deficient. Bergin also told Judge Claude Worrell on Dec. 2 that he has not received the proper documents he’s requested.
“It’s four months out and he’s failed to answer at least three interrogatories and has not produced any productive documents,” Bergin said. “Today I stopped by the clerk’s office where Mr. Collier had left some documents.”
Bergin said the law requires documents be organized properly and because they were not the Greene County Clerk’s Office was unable to scan, copy or file the documents.
“Defendant failed to provide adequate, complete and non-evasive answers to interrogatories and responses to requests for production of documents,” Bergin said in his motion.
On the plaintiff’s desk in court was a box with plastic grocery bags filled with documents that Collier had left with the clerk’s office. Sitting atop the pile was a receipt from Staples.
“I did take about 20 minutes to look through these and the documents appear to be irresponsive. These documents include things such as grocery receipts, drive-through receipts. There’s an electrical bill in here. There is nothing we requested,” he said.
The order gives Collier 21 days from Dec. 2 to complete the responses and deliver the documents to the plaintiff. Additionally, because Collier did not admit or deny requests for admissions on several items in the lawsuits, the court has ruled that Collier in fact admitted to them, including that on
Oct. 6, 2017, Collier was “operating the site as a facility for the disposal, treatment or storage of nonhazardous solid waste without a permit.”
Additionally, the court ruled that Collier admitted to the site receiving and storing industrial waste and conducting land-disturbing activity at the site without proper permits.
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.
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.
The 2017 complaint was just the latest in decades of complaints about the property, according to the lawsuit. Collier has operated a salvage yard on the site since 1976.
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.
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.