EPA cleanup of contaminated site continues in Kannapolis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 1, 2012

KANNAPOLIS – Robert King said that, some three decades ago, Villa Mobile Home Park used to be a great place to live.
“It used to be probably the best trailer park I ever seen,” King said.
Today, it’s in the limelight for another reason.
Reporters’ cameras and TV crews have been pulling into the tree-shaded streets of this trailer court off McLain Road since news broke of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-backed Superfund cleanup effort.
Working with heavy equipment, crews have removed mobile homes and a lot of soil from the site where officials say a large number of car battery casings were buried decades ago.
And there is more debris waiting.
Photos of the site, posted online this week, show still more battery casings near a drainage ditch leading to a nearby creek that residents say eventually flows to Concord Lake.
There are more questions than answers to be found as the cleanup goes forward.
According to published reports, the EPA’s coordinator at the scene, Alyssa Hughes, has said the agency has not yet determined who holds responsibility for the dumping.
The Post could not immediately reach Hughes for comment Friday.
The park’s former owner, Howard Wyrick, died almost a year ago, in December of 2011.
Today, Villa Park is in bankruptcy.
Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg, reached by email during an out-of-state trip, said that will make code enforcement more difficult.
“But it is likely we will have to find ways to address those problems sooner than later,” Legg said.
According to records provided by the city of Kannapolis, the problem of battery waste at the site has been dealt with for almost two and a half years.
Kris Krider, Kannapolis’ director of planning and code enforcement, said the city has played a diminished role in what he described as a “very lengthy process.”
According to an August report from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, provided by Krider, the initial complaint was referred to state officials by Kannapolis in June 2010.
Legg said this was because Kannapolis does not have specific laws to respond to pollution of this type.
“They (state officials) investigated and determined it violated state laws, but they didn’t have the resources to address the issue properly…” Legg said.
According to the DENR report, officials saw “visible layers of battery casing on the stream bank … and stream bed” in July 2010.
A field test of surface water at that time showed no water quality issues.
But a soil test conducted in August 2010 measured lead concentrations of 4,130 milligrams per kilogram.
According to the EPA’s “Superfund Lead-Contaminated Sites Handbook,” found online, a lead concentration of greater than 1,200 milligrams per kilogram classifies the site as “tier 1,” a high-risk area with specific guidelines for cleanup.
In the months that followed, the report outlines further steps taken to determine the extent of the contamination.
The result: Several mobile homes and a large quantity of dirt have been removed, with no immediate end in sight.

Curtis Ballard lives on McLain Road about a quarter-mile from Villa Park.
He said he knows where the battery casings came from.
“When I was a kid, they were bustin’ batteries and getting the lead out of them, and they had nowhere to dispose of the casings,” Ballard said Thursday during a visit to the site.
It’s not clear exactly who “they” were, but Ballard said he believes the late owner, Wyrick, at least knew about the battery casings and allowed them to be buried there.
The Post could not identify any member of the Wyrick family to contact for comment.
Ballard, who runs an auto shop next door to his McLain Street home, is unhappy with the city’s response to the issue, and with the state of nearby Villa Park in general.
“I’ve lived right here on this street for 45 years,” Ballard said.
Driving by Villa Park on Thursday, Ballard pointed out abandoned mobile homes in various stages of disrepair.
“Windows knocked out, doors knocked out,” Ballard said. “There’s not a lot of people who live in here now.”
Ballard also talked about another alleged problem at Villa Park. He said parts of former service-station gasoline tanks were used as underground drainage pipes on the site.
The Post was unable to confirm whether this is, in fact, the case.
The report provided by Krider references a problem regarding an “underground storage tank,” but does not give details.
With all of this, Ballard asked, “how has it affected the groundwater?”
He said he hasn’t yet tested his water. “I’ve got that on the agenda, real soon,” Ballard said.
Pete Crainshaw, Ballard’s neighbor, said he now lives in his grandparents’ former home.
He, too, said he knew that batteries had been buried in the area.
Taking out his laptop computer, Crainshaw showed pictures that he said he had taken, showing dead lizards and contaminated soil in the area.
Meanwhile, King — the Villa Park resident — said he knew that crews were cleaning up “corroded materials” at his home.
“I asked a couple of these (EPA) guys about it. There had to be a lot,” King said.
King added, “The hole was here before me.”
“The city has kept this hush-hush, that’s what I’m mad about,” Ballard said.
He and Crainshaw, with other residents, attended Monday’s Kannapolis City Council meeting to voice their concerns about a variety of issues.
However, the documents provided by Krider indicate that both Wyrick and residents of the immediate area were informed of the problem — as far back as 2011 in Wyrick’s case, and for several months in the case of other residents.
Legg said the city isn’t responsible for the cleanup, and has “no cost burden,” meaning that city tax dollars won’t go toward the costs of removing contaminants from Villa Park.
As for the other issues at the mobile home park, Legg said he couldn’t speak to specific code violations.
But, he said, because Villa Park predates the 1984 incorporation of Kannapolis as a city, it’s grandfathered in under the city’s housing ordinances.
And Legg said that “the bulk of the code issues are related to the homes themselves” — a separate matter from the lead cleanup.
No matter the situation, Legg said residents should contact the city’s Community Development Department if they observe any violations of the city’s ordinances.
As for the complex problem of the Villa Park cleanup, the process has no immediate end in sight.
And it’s possible that more mobile homes may have to be removed before the full extent of the contamination is known.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.