Monday, November 23, 2009

Continued Dumping Practices by North Canton Defies Logic and the Law

Prepared Comments Intended for
November 23, 2009

Last week the public learned in a November 17, 2009, Repository story titled, “North Canton told to stop dumping debris at Jackson site” that the City of North Canton, once again, has been found dumping waste material in violation of the law. According to the report, “The city has for several years dumped street sweepings and construction dirt on parcels along Freedom Avenue NW. The property is next to the city’s water treatment plant….”

An EPA email indicates the waste material included catch basins’ cleanings and that the dumping took place on a 2-3 acre wetland on private property.

How could this happen?

It was ten years ago that the city learned of the damage it had inflicted on its own Dressler well field with dumping practices dating back to the 1980s. This resulted in an EPA mandated cleanup of the property costing approximately $500,000.

Mayor Held, you were the City Administrator at that time and as administrator you handled the cleanup for the city. In an April 5, 2002, Repository story, titled “PCBs found in Dressler Road well field,” your photograph appeared with the story showing you standing in the midst of all the excavation at the well field.

After going through that experience in your first few months on the job in 2002 and seeing the expenditure of nearly one half million dollars of public funds to abate the damage from the dumping done by city employees, didn’t that experience make an indelible impression in your life on the proper disposal of waste material?

Why then, as city administrator, did you not put into place proper methods for the disposal of all wastes generated by the City?

Why hasn’t the city’s current city administrator, Earl Wise, taken action to stop the continued practice of dumping solid waste? Mr. Wise you are an attorney and surely you are knowledgeable of the city operations, past and present, and what is acceptable or not acceptable.

Each of you should be capable of seeking out answers to questions you have to issues that present themselves to you on a daily basis. I do not expect either of you to know everything but I do expect you to be able to seek the correct answers when called upon to do so.

Mayor Held, I believe you and the City Administrator have failed in this regard and as a result, the city could very well incur expenses to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars for abatement of the illegal dumping. Furthermore, the city could be exposed to lawsuits from the landowners who agreed to this illegal practice not to mention the harm you have inflicted on the city’s image and reputation.

Can you imagine a municipality inducing landowners in an illegal scheme to dump solid wastes? For what purpose does the city continue to dump?

Actions such as these only serve to soil North Canton’s reputation and diminish the stature of those involved.

Mayor Held, as Director of the Joint Solid Waste District for Stark, Tuscarawas and Wayne Counties since July of 2004, I am astounded that you are unaware of the consequences of the illegal dumping and that you have failed to take any leadership position on this issue. When you were first sworn in as Mayor, you had already served six months as Director of the Solid Waste District.

Why have you not used your insight as Director of the Solid Waste District to the benefit of North Canton to spare the city the embarrassment of this revelation not to mention the tremendous cost that taxpayers will ultimately bear for the cleanup?

In a North Canton Sun Journal report dated March 3, 2001, titled “Report that spill,” the paper reports on the purchase of a dozen signs by the city that will be “ …prominently displayed near the city’s well fields to remind residents to take an active role in protecting the city’s drinking water. The signs tell people to call 9-1-1 if they see or have knowledge of a spill that could contaminate the ground near a well field.” North Canton Water Superintendent Rich Steinhebel is quoted in the article as stating “The signs are to make people aware of the wells and they send a message to people to take responsibility.”

One would think that city officials would have enough reminders of the need to protect water resources but on August 14, 2002, I felt compelled to address the issue when I was a councilman. My letter addressed to former Mayor Tom Rice and copied to City Administrator David Held states:.

“I am writing to you to ask that the city’s street department stop the practice of washing the city’s street sweeper on the grounds of the city’s water treatment plant.

While on a recent visit to North Canton’s Water Treatment Plant, I observed the cleaning of the city’s street sweeper on the grounds of the water treatment plant. In close proximity, was a production well supplying raw water to the treatment plant.

The street sweeper had just come from dumping its collection of debris (location unknown), and with the truck’s rear gate open and its dump bed elevated, the driver hosed out any remaining dirt and debris onto the grounds of the treatment plant. All of this was happening in close proximity to a water well and within the perimeter of the security fence of the water treatment plant.

This is not the kind of activity that should occur on the grounds of North Canton’s Water Treatment Plant and seems to run counter to the message on the Drinking Water Protection Area signs that are posted near all the city’s well fields.

Whether there is any possibility of water contamination from this is irrelevant. The city’s street department should utilize an approved area for the cleaning of its street sweeper. All refuse from the city’s street sweeper should be properly disposed of including the rinse water used in the cleaning process.

This kind of activity does not send a good message to the public nor does it show that North Canton is serious about running a model water treatment facility.

I trust that you want to protect North Canton’s water treatment plant as well as its water resources and will act promptly to correct this situation.”

Mayor Held, my letter of seven years ago apparently did not make an impact on you.

Clearly, the North Canton City Administration has not taken responsibility nor have city department heads and supervisors. I believe there is a systemic reason for that and that is the fact that city employees are concerned about retaliation. The city’s dumping practices have been well known for decades and that information came out in the investigation of the contamination of the Dressler well field.

For this reason, I am asking that city council pass whistleblower legislation to protect any and all city employees who want to report illegal activity or any activity that is harmful to the city and the community at large.

In a related topic, I have learned that in the last four years there has been a great deal of turnover at the city’s water treatment plant and this council must investigate the reasons for the turnover. I am in contact with several past employees and they all tell a similar story.

Why would anyone leave a coveted position with the City, making in excess of $40,000, in a dismal economy? The lack of leadership from the mayor, the city administrator and city supervisors has left good employees with no support when they report wrongdoing or illegal activities.

I ask that a complete and independent investigation be undertaken to root out the reasons for the high employee turnover and that procedures be put in place to improve management of city employees. I also urge that job descriptions be written along with minimum job qualifications. At a minimum, the position of Water Department Superintendent should specify a four year degree in Chemistry or a related field of science.

The citizens of North Canton deserve much better leadership than what we are seeing. This council wants to improve North Canton economically but if there is no leadership and no management for its employees, you efforts will all be in vain.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne

Note: President of North Canton City Council, Daryl Revoldt, to the astonishment of several city council members, chose censorship over freedom of speech at tonight's city council meeting and refused to allow me the opportunity to read the prepared comments on this topic.