Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Carmel on the Case: Mulch Mystery
We may be at the beginning of hurricane season, but believe it or not authorities are still dealing with problems from storms that hit years ago. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- The aftermath of a hurricane is never pretty, from downed trees to mountains of trash. It all needs to be cleaned up and hauled away.
After Katrina and Wilma, the government hired trucking companies to take away piles of debris. Trees were ground up, and the trucking companies were allowed to give away those ground up trees as free mulch.
Matt Davis, DERM Chief: "It's trash that should be disposed of at a landfill."
Trash was supposed to be picked up and taken to a landfill but the trucking companies had to pay landfill fees for the trash and some tried to cut their costs by hiding trash in the free mulch.
Lewis Chisholm: "At the beginning, there were a couple of tires here and there, and I said, 'Hey, listen, if there's going to be tires here, you can't bring this on here,' and we made them sift thought it and get everything out."
Lewis Chisholm took truckloads of free mulch for his farm. Pictures at the time show ground up trees being spread on his property, but underneath all that wood there was trash. Lewis didn't realize how much, and now it's costing him big time.
Lewis Chisholm: "I almost went bankrupt. I mean, I had to sell the place."
Farmers throughout South Dade were glad to take advantage of the free mulch, using it to raise low lying areas on their farms. The Department of Environmental Resource Management, or DERM, got involved after getting tips about trash in the mulch.
Mark Pettit, DERM Code Enforcement: "There could be contaminants in the material that is leeching into the ground water, and the ground water is what we drink."
In all, the county says 55 properties in western Miami-Dade ended up with contaminated mulch after Katrina. The property owners were fined $50,000. In addition, they have to pay for cleanup.
Matt Davis: "We're concerned about protecting the drinking water of the county and residents of the county."
While Chisholm's property has been restored to the wetland it once was, he's out more that $114,000 for the clean up. He says the government should go after the trucking companies that misled the farmers about what they were dumping.
Lewis Chisholm: "FEMA paid them millions and millions of dollars to truck this stuff out and instead of trucking it out, they decided, 'Oh, we'll just dump it here locally and save some fuel and make a little bit more.'"
Carmel Cafiero: "DERM would like to go after the truckers too, but it says no one is naming names."
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