The owners of a secret dump west of Chapel Hill have been ordered to clean up their garbage-littered plot off Bethel Hickory Grove Church Road or face steep financial penalties from state regulators.
Those penalties include a $15,000 per-day fine if the landowners do not stop the dumping operations and move mounds of "land clearing debris and construction and demolition debris" to a state-permitted landfill, according to a N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources notice of violation issued Feb. 14.
The notice came as part of a state investigation into the mysterious Orange County dump, which was reported by the INDY last month after receiving a complaint by a neighbor of the site.
DENR officials accuse the property owners—the longtime Orange County farming family of Melvin, Joseph and David Parrish—of operating a solid-waste facility without a state permit.
Cathy Akroyd, spokeswoman for DENR's Division of Waste Management, said the Parrish family had not picked up the certified mail copy of the notice of violation as of Friday. Akroyd said the next step is for an Orange County Sheriff's deputy to hand-deliver the notice to the family, which also runs a grading, hauling and excavating business.
Solid waste experts told the INDY last month that such unpermitted dumps, which operate without environmental safeguards, are linked to groundwater contamination, air pollution and habitat and wetland destruction.
The Bethel Hickory Grove Church Road site is located within the "critical" watershed area of University Lake, a 450-million-gallon reservoir west of Carrboro and Chapel Hill that, along with OWASA's Cane Creek and Quarry reservoirs, provides drinking water for roughly 80,000 people in the region.
The "critical" designation indicates the area's close proximity to the reservoir, carrying with it stringent development regulations that ban such activities as solid waste facilities.
Cassie Gavin, director of government relations for the environmental watchdog N.C. Sierra Club, told the INDY last month that the dump should be a "big concern to anyone who lives in Orange County and drinks water from University Lake."
A DENR investigator discovered debris in an area measuring less than a quarter of an acre, according to the Feb. 14 notice, although the document does not mention numerous abandoned vehicles, decaying wooden shacks and metal drums discovered by the INDY investigation last month.
As of press time, Akroyd had not responded to inquiries as to why those items were not noted.
Officials with the Orange County Planning Department say they have been eyeing the dumping site as a potential land-use violation for roughly a decade, although it's unclear how it has been allowed to continue operations during that time.
Orange County Planning Director Craig Benedict did not return a phone call on the subject this week.
It's also unclear who has been dumping at the Orange County site, although neighbors said they frequently saw large dump trucks going in and out of the site.
Members of the Parrish family could not be reached for comment this week.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Just pick up after yourself "