By Lenny C. Lepola
Earlier this year, Mike Lotz was making improvements to his property on Center Village Road in Harlem Township when he discovered compacted refuse.
Lotz asked a neighbor, Randy McDermot, if he had any knowledge about the property’s history. McDermot, who has only lived in the township for 10 years, said he had heard from neighbors, relatives of township trustees, members of the previous Harlem Grange and current members of the Harlem Heritage and Civic Association that it was used for years as a township dump – but to what extent he did not know.
Lotz attended the June 11 special trustee meeting where he showed a video of the property.
At that meeting he also said he Vicki Tieche about the site. The meeting minutes state she told him it was a township dump but later retracted her statement.
Lotz said it might cost up to a million dollars to clean up the site; he contacted the EPA and their suggestion was to cover it with two feet of dirt.
Lotz said since it might have been a township sanctioned dump, he would like the township to purchase the property for $225,000.
The trustees entered executive session to discuss the property. After coming out of executive session and reentering their special meeting the trustees decided not to vote on the issue and let it play out.
Lotz and McDermot both had problems with the June 11 meeting minutes and asked that letters stating their objections and positions be inserted into the July 16 trustee meeting minutes.
In his letter McDermot indicates that his professional career has included waste management; and he offered to help determine the history of the property and the extent of involvement by the residents and the township over the past decades.
“Mike invited me and some of my close associates from the waste industry to assess the situation and magnitude of the issue,” McDermot wrote. “To my surprise his site appears to be an unofficial and possibly an illegally operated landfill. In my opinion, even if it was shut down prior to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency mandates, the fact still remains that this was a known landfill site, not only for construction debris, but a landfill of mixed solid wastes and it should have been reported as a superfund site.”
McDermot said he estimates the roughly 2-acre dump to be at least 15 feet deep, or 48,400 cubic yards, or almost 5,000 truckloads; that excavation, hauling, disposal and site remediation could easily exceed $10 million.
“I personally performed a title search of the property and found no evidence that previous owners had disclosed the use as a private or public landfill,” McDermot’s letter continues. “However, title transfer documents mysteriously transfer several times back and forward between several parties as if knowledge of some irregularity existed with the property.”
McDermot’s letter had seven points of issue:
1. The residents of the township, as well as residents from surrounding areas, benefited from the use of the land, regardless of its legality; and the past disposal of waste on the property did not compensate fairly for the property’s consequential devaluation.
2. The Harlem trustees do have knowledge of the property’s use. He asked that each of the trustees be asked under oath to the extent of their knowledge of the use of the property and ask them if they, their friends or their families had disposed of debris at the site or had knowledge of others doing so.
3. Aerial photos of the site from 1967 clearly show an active landfill face. Traceable and verifiable evidence at the site supports that large amounts of local household belongings were disposed of at the site.
4. The Delaware County Prosecutors Office and the Harlem Township Board of Trustees were notified in June of potential hazardous waste discharge from a verified landfill site that has unknown and unquantified waste material. McDermot said both parties, the county prosecutor and the township trustees, have in his opinion demonstrated a dereliction of duty by not informing residents and neighbors of a possible hazard. He also said because the landfill issue involves the county prosecutor’s office, the matter should be elevated to the United States Justice Department for investigation.
5. The use of the land and lack of historical exchange of compensation for its use could be a violation of a portion of the Fifth Amendment.
6. Until the undated letter, no one from the township had visited the property to see the landfill site or to speak with Mike Lotz and his family, with the exception of Harlem Township Fiscal Officer Robert Fracasso, who lives directly across the street.
7. The June 11 Special Meeting Minutes with Mike Lotz, the trustees and the prosecutor’s office are not accurate. He said meeting minutes are typically circulated amongst officials for consensus and accuracy before being published. He said because the meeting minutes are not factual, that the officials have colluded or conspired together, which, in his words, is disturbing.
In his letter to the trustees, Lotz said he was appalled on reading the June 11 meeting minutes.
“As a member of this community I now wonder what other things go on in these meetings that are left out or skewed and slanted as to protect the image and interest of our public officials and township,” Lotz wrote.
Lotz said he wanted the portion of the minutes changed that indicated Vicki Tieche told him it was a township dump but later retracted her statement. Lotz said Tieche did not retract her statement; she changed the strength of her statement.
“Vicki told me on the phone without hesitation that the township took control of the dump,” Lotz wrote. “After I told her on the phone at the end of our conversation that I was going to pursue this with you … then she changed her statement (about) the fact that you were clearly involved to ‘someone, possibly the township’ was involved in making it an official dump. She never said it was not a dump and she never said you were not involved.”
Lotz said Tieche receives money for projects from the township and therefore her response has become more protective; when a former college classmate of his contacted Tieche while doing a research project on the landfill/dump, she refused to discuss the matter.
Lotz also objected to the property’s residential zoning if there were an environmental hazard.
“You might not have been legally tied to the property and are trying to use that as a way to protect the township and yourselves, but we need to be honest about what the truth of the matter is here,” the letter concluded. “Public opinion and perception of this issue is extremely important. The public deserves to know.”
Also inserted in to the July 16 minutes was a letter to Mike Lotz from Andrew J. King, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office.
“You have done a title search and found no evidence that the Township owned the land,” King wrote. “You are not aware of any legal agreements whereby the Township took custody of or control over the property. Nor are you aware of the Township having ever operated the dump. Based on the information that you have provided, the Board has no further plans to discuss the potential purchase of your property. If you discover that the Township’s involvement in the property is other than what you have shared, we would be willing to reconsider the matter again.”