A Greene County man and an independent candidate for sheriff could face fines of up to $97,500 a day after three state agencies claimed in a lawsuit that he has been illegally operating a landfill.
Kenneth Collier, who operates a salvage yard in Ruckersville, has for decades stored debris, waste and salvage materials on his 42-acre property, according to the suit filed Aug. 9 in Greene County Circuit Court. 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 suit charges Collier with three specific violations: one count of operating a solid waste disposal facility without a permit; one count of operating a landfill without the proper permit for the discharge of stormwater from industrial activity; and one count of moving land without the permit for the discharge of stormwater from construction.
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.
“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.
Despite those inspections and visits from federal Environmental Protection Agency officials, Collier continued to accept brush, discarded vehicles and industrial waste as recently as June, according to the suit.
“Defendant continues to operate the site as an unlawful, unpermitted landfill,” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Bergin wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs.
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.
In 2012, DEQ inspected the site and saw that Collier was working to clean it up. It did not conduct a follow-up visit. Collier’s permit to operate expired in 2014, according to the lawsuit.
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.
No hearings have been set yet in the case.
According to a Virginia Departments of Elections spreadsheet, 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.