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Homeowners find dump when they try to put in a pool

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 05:19 PM
LAKELAND -

It took pool contractors only a few hours to unearth an underground dump in Brian Dyer's backyard.

They first hit household trash 2 1/2 feet under the ground. Then 2 feet deeper they discovered metal. That's when workers started pulling out tires, lawn mowers, even a washing machine. The more they dug, the more they found.

"We just can't put a pool there," said Andy Hernan, with Griffin Pools. "There's a garbage dump. This is historical for us. I don't know where it came from or how big it is."

So instead of summertime pool fun with four kids, the Dyer family is trying to figure out what to do. They're left with two holes filled with garbage and mounds of dirt and trash. In short, they have a big mess they may have to pay thousands to clean it all up. The builder says it's not its responsibility, and Florida's environmental protection department told Dyer the cleanup bill would most likely be his to pay.

No one, it seems, wants to take responsibility for a problem that may affect other homeowners in the neighborhood because no one knows how big the landfill is.

When the Dyers first discovered the dump, no agency they called wanted to help.

"We have no idea what to do," Dyer said. "I'm not sure, from an environmental standpoint, if it impacts the community or the neighborhood. I can't just cover it back up and pretend it was never there."

What makes this even stranger is the location – the Oak Run subdivision in Lakeland. The area was an orange groove as far back as the 1970s, according to Polk County Property Appraiser Marsha Faux. The property was developed into a neighborhood during the housing boom, Polk County records show, but there's no record of a landfill anywhere near the Dyer's 5-year-old home. A neighbor two doors down has a pool and reported no problems.

Tom Deardorff, director of planning and development for Polk County, said it's unclear whether the Dyer's backyard was a former landfill that current county employees didn't know about or if someone long ago dumped illegally.

Some of the junk includes Coke bottles dating back to the 1970s, but there also was trash that appeared newer.

"It seems to be an illegal dump, maybe even a farmer dumping on their property," Deardorff said.

He said if the county had been aware the land had been used for a dump, it would not have allowed it to be zoned for residential use.

Greg Masters, president of Southern Homes, said his company "couldn't have known" about the dump. The company has built in Polk County for 20 years, he said, and never had a problem like this.

Builders, he said, don't dig deep enough during the building process to uncover junk like what is in the Dyer's yard. In the case of the Oak Run neighborhood, Masters said, Southern Homes acquired the land through a developer who finished the lots. That developer, he said, has since died, and so he can't go to him for answers.

"I think this seems isolated to the one house," Masters said. "We haven't heard of anyone else running into this."

An employee for The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the agency would visit the site soon and test for any chemical that could have seemed into the soil.

Jennifer Diaz, spokeswoman, said she wasn't sure when that would happen and that the agency didn't have the funds to help remove the garbage.

Kim Byer, with Polk County's Waste Management Department, said the DEP asked her to check out the situation last week and take photos of the trash. She said she was shocked by what she found.

"It's a much bigger problem than most people would anticipate cleaning up," Byer said.

Byer said she's never seen anything like it in a residential community. The county will help locate landfill space where the trash can be relocated, she said. It will also refer the family to contractors the county uses, she said, but paying for it will be more difficult. Until the volume of the garbage is measured, she said, she's unsure how much it would cost but she could say "without doubt, it will be thousands, at least."

"Something of this magnitude, we're not financially equipped to assist," she said. "However, we'll work with the homeowner as much as possible to help him get assistance in other areas."

All this leave Dyer wishing he'd never thought of putting in a pool. His kids, he said, shut the blinds so they don't have to look at the junk.

"They're disappointed," he said. "We're all disappointed."


sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804 Twitter: @TBORealtyCheck

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