Materials from Beale plant end up in Nottoway

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Styrofoam gets caught up in a jam amongst limbs and logs while moving down river. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Styrofoam gets caught up in a jam amongst limbs and logs while moving down river. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Around the area of Vick’s Island along the Nottoway River, an abundance of Styrofoam has started to appear along the shore. It has also gotten stuck in logs around the bends.

Blackwater and Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner said the trash was first reported to him a couple of weeks ago, and he went to investigate just north of Courtland in his boat. He wasn’t able to approach Vick’s Island, as the logs and shallow water prevented his motor boat from going any further. The log jam is providing some assistance. Barring a big rain, Turner said the Styrofoam ought to remain there.

But Turner, who reported it to the Tidewater Region Department of Environmental Equality, couldn’t go far enough north to discover the source himself. In kayaks, this reporter and Blackwater Outfitters / Nottoway River Guides owner Tim McCormick were able to get where Turner was unable.

Dropping in near Vick’s Beach, the Styrofoam starts to appear along the river where the river takes its first sharp right curve after the launch, at a spot called the Devil’s Elbow.

Tim McCormick with Blackwater Outfitters / Nottoway River Guides holds a piece of Styrofoam that has concrete on it. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Tim McCormick with Blackwater Outfitters / Nottoway River Guides holds a piece of Styrofoam that has concrete on it. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

On the left side of the river, the property belongs to David and John Wayne Fowler. On the right side of the river, the land belongs to the family of the late Robert Francis Kello.

Property owners along the river say that the Fowlers were burying materials in the flood plain of the Nottoway — some of it as erosion control — and the Styrofoam appears to have washed out.

Styrofoam wasn’t the only material to wash out, as papers were found on Vick’s Island. They were old tax documents from the H.P. Beale and Sons meat packing plant on Ivor Road.

In early 2014, the plant, owned by Gene Beale Jr., was taken down after standing unused since the late 1980s. Old Dominion Demolition of Portsmouth was hired to do the original work.

Beale and Dan Chrispino of Old Dominion could not be reached for comment. Beale was out of the state and Chrispino was on location at another site.

Southampton County Community Development’s Beth Lewis was able to reach Beale on Friday, and he submitted a letter to her stating that David Fowler was hired to haul the remaining bricks and concrete away from the property.

“We’ve issued a stop order on the work until we get to the bottom of this,” she said, adding that Fowler never applied for a permit to do this work.

John Settle, who works with Tidewater’s DEQ in pollution response, said Southampton County is the lead agency, and that his office will provide enforcement support.

Once it is discovered who is responsible for this mess, Settle said that party will have to clean it up. Should they prove unwilling or unable, it would fall to the county. He said the county could chose to bring them to court. Settle said not only should the Styrofoam be removed, but also the concrete deposited on the side of the river.

Settle said the DEQ does believe the materials in the river are coming from the packing plant, but he could not comment yet on who he believes is responsible.

“Construction material from a demolition site would be commercial waste, and that would have to be processed differently than residential waste,” he said, adding that construction waste has additional fees. “This is construction debris from a demolition.”

Styrofoam cannot be digested by fish, but Settle didn’t think too many would be eating it.

“Animals usually stay away from Styrofoam,” he said. “I’m not saying a bird won’t find a piece and think it’s edible, but for the most part, they will stay away.

“Obviously, though, this will impact the natural ecology in that birds and aquatic life will avoid these areas.”

Settle said he thinks the Styrofoam likely came from a walk-in cooler, and he didn’t think asbestos would be a potential problem since it was mainly used for heating. Additionally, any asbestos would have been removed before the demolition took place, so Settle said it shouldn’t be a problem.

“The main thing is that we want it removed,” he said of the Styrofoam. “We will work hand-in-hand with the county and are here to support Southampton with enforcement.”

Cleaning it up is going to be a mammoth undertaking, Turner said.

“I spent several hours in one spot, filled up six of those big orange VDOT bags and didn’t put a dent in it,” he said. “I could have filled up six more bags and that single spot would still be overflowing with it. It was piled up a foot thick in some spots.

“I just hope this investigation gets done right,” Turner continued. “I hope it’s not another one of those cases where they get started and forget about it. Somebody needs to be fined for this — I’d like to see them go to jail, but I know that won’t happen.”

A number for David Fowler Jr., 56, could not be obtained. John Wayne Fowler Sr., 53, could not be reached for comment.

John Wayne Fowler was arrested by the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office back in February in connection with stolen equipment from Hertford County, North Carolina. Some of the equipment recovered was construction related.