Residents living on or near an old dump site in the Woodhaven subdivision want answers, but they say they are having a hard time getting anyone to even hear their questions.
The residents in the Havelock area had two opportunities this week to express themselves, one during the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night and the other during a meeting to help city staff identify potentially hazardous sites on Tuesday.
"The state has been very slow in answering the problems," Woodhaven resident Shannon Richards told commissioners Monday. "It is scary to have arsenic in your back yard or to have your house sinking."
Arsenic, thallium and iron were all found above remediation levels, according to state test results that came back last month. That has left some residents on Belltown Road and Tall Pine Road concerned about their health, their safety and their property values. Initially, just a handful of homes were believed to be located on the old dump site but now the state has identified about a dozen.
Residents in the area have reported finding a wide variety of trash under the soil in their yards. Undulating land and even small sinkholes have also been reported there.
"I don’t know what’s buried there," resident Warren Salter said during Monday’s meeting.
He said his neighbor won’t even go into her yard.
"She’s elderly, she’s a widow, and she can’t even go in her back yard because she’s afraid she’ll fall down and break a leg," he said.
Salter said a truck hood was found buried in his yard, along with numerous other trash items. He said the shifting land has caused lattice work on his shed to split.
"My land is sinking," he said.
As is his property value, he said.
"The value of my house? What do I got?" he said. "If I tried to sell my house today, which I wouldn’t want to, but I’ve got to disclose that I live on a dump. Who’s going to buy it? It’s a mess."
But Salter’s main complaint, and the complaint of other residents, is that nothing seems to be getting done.
"The state has drugged its feet," Salter said.
A spokeswoman with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the latest testing revealed the need for more tests to assess possible health risks. However, she said she did not know when those tests would take place.
Residents in the area are also looking for someone to blame for allowing their homes to be constructed over an old dump site.
Cliff Parson, city attorney, said the dump existed before Havelock was incorporated in 1959, and that the city never owned the dump or used it. Though the area of the subdivision started being developed in 1966 and 1967, the city was not required to conduct tests below the surface of the soil prior to construction of homes in the early 1970s and therefore had no liability in the matter.
But beyond that, Parson said the city couldn’t take any action to fix any problems because of state statutes.
"It’s our conclusion that the city not only is not obligated to do anything, but is also not authorized to do anything," he said.
Still, City Manager Jim Freeman directed city grants writer and information officer Diane Miller to be the point of contact for residents with questions or comments on the issue.
Havelock received a $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to get an assessment of potentially hazardous sites within the city. Individual property owners on the old dump site could be considered, but so could other property in Havelock. Either way, the city wants to know about it.
So far, about 35 sites have been identified in the city, but Miller stressed that the only way for the city and the EPA to know about others is for residents to come forward and add their properties to the list.
"If there’s something that needs to be added, they need to get it to us," she said. "We’re moving as quickly as we can on this."
The grant covers just three years and is for assessment and testing of potentially hazardous property only. The money is not for any cleanup costs.
"We need a bunch of that assessment spent right here, Tall Pine Road," resident Raymond Reider said, pointing out the spot on a map to David Sykes, senior environmental scientist with Mid Atlantic Engineering and Environmental Solutions.
That company is guiding the city through the grant process.
"In general, the purpose of the grant is economic development," Sykes said. "That’s the EPA’s ultimate goal, to take an abandoned property and bring it back to use."
Miller said residents who were unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting can still get their property added to the list for potential testing by calling her at Havelock City Hall at 444-6400.