Sheriff’s Office, property owners continue Styrofoam cleanup

Published 8:29 pm Friday, May 1, 2015

Tidewater Area Department of Environment Quality’s pollution response officer John Settle said he had hopes that the majority of the Styrofoam floating in the Nottoway River will be removed within a couple weeks.

At that point, Settle said, he believes the enforcement team will get started assessing penalties on all involved. John Brandt, who is with the area’s enforcement department, added that currently they are looking into all the facts. The investigation won’t be complete until DEQ has drafted a notice of violation.

In the meanwhile, Southampton County, Riverkeeper Jeff Turner, the responsible landowner David Fowler Jr. and other local families are working to clean up the river.

Sgt. Greg Griffith said cleanup efforts have mostly been coordinated through the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, and that he and a team of inmates have been out there multiple times.

To date, 80 to 100 industrial-sized waste bags have been cleared out of the river. Griffith said the sheriff’s office is responsible for half of it, and Fowler and his team have removed more than 20 bags’ worth.

“It is not all out yet, but they have made good progress there,” said County Administrator Mike Johnson.

The recent rain has caused some concern. That’s because the debris — originally hauled from the H.P. Beale and Sons meatpacking plant demolition site on a contract from the property owner — is still buried along the river. Styrofoam is mixed in with the concrete and bricks, and should the river rise, the county will be right back where it started, Turner said.

“If it gets over 12 feet at the Sebrell gauge, it will start washing out again,” he said. “We are nowhere near 12 feet right now. But if that happened, we’d have gone through all of that effort and more will come right back in.”

In an effort to prevent more Styrofoam getting in the river, a floating boom was installed by the sheriff’s office where the material was placed. Johnson said the county paid for the installation of the boom, but that the responsible property owner would be billed.

Johnson said the cleanup effort has been going in three distinct phases: get debris out of the river; make sure no more Styrofoam gets in the river; and then figure out the long-term solution of the demolition material in the flood plain.

Though Fowler did not have a permit from the county to remove the debris, he was hired by Gene Beale Jr. to do the job. The materials were hauled onto the property of Fowler and his brother, John Wayne Fowler Sr., to shore up some land that had been damaged during hunting season. Fowler stresses that his brother had no involvement in this.

The other concern is working with the DEQ to make sure the property owner complies with all state, federal and local laws. Johnson said they do reserve the right to assess penalties or fines.

“Southampton County is leading the charge, and they have been very proactive,” said Settle. “Everything requested from the state’s point of view, they have done. I’ve been very pleased with their responsiveness and attention to detail.”

The two-week deadline Fowler signed with the county ended on Friday, and he was scheduled to meet with authorities to discuss his efforts so far. Rain may have had other ideas, though, concerning actually getting out to examine the Nottoway.

“We’ve been doing all we can to protect the river and to make sure we do not have a repeat incident,” Johnson said. “We will continue to work with the property owner. It’ll probably be over a period of months.”