Neighbors allege illegal dumping site is still operational despite owners’ denial

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

MOORESVILLE — For almost 20 years, a three-acre property in Rowan County owned by Roy and Tonya Sykes has been used as an illegal landfilling operation, racking up more than $40,000 in fines and causing stress for nearby neighbors who say they just want it to stop.

But both of the Sykeses are adamant that nothing illegal is going on at the site and say they have paid all fines. They expressed frustration with their neighbors, who they say have been picking on them and making false allegations. They also said that will they are they are being accused, others in the neighborhood are doing the same thing.

Investigations have been conducted and notices of violation for open burning have been sent to the couple dating back to 2004. The most recent notice of violation for open burning was reported and issued by N.C. Department of Environmental Quality officials on Feb. 20, according to a Notice of Violation and Recommendation for Enforcement letter that was sent to the Sykeses on March 3.

The letter reads:

“Ms. Donna Cook of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality, accompanied by Ms. Teresa Bradford of DEQ’s Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section, observed the open burning of synthetic materials on property you own located at 340 Dawson Downs, Mooresville, Rowan County, North Carolina on February 20, 2023. The materials being open burned consisted of paper materials. Burning of non-vegetative materials is a violation of North Carolina Administrative Code Title 15A 2D .1903(b)(1)(C), ‘Open Burning Without an Air Quality Permit’ which prohibits burning of non-vegetative materials, such as papers, household garbage, lumber, or any other synthetic materials.”

The letter also states that a default judgment was entered against the Sykes on March 21, 2022, at the Rowan County Superior Court telling the couple to “immediately and permanently cease any and all open burning of any combustible material at the site.” The Mooresville Regional Office of the Division of Air Quality is also considering sending a recommendation for enforcement to the director of the Division of Air Quality for the violation.

Roy said he was burning his recently deceased mother’s mail in a can during the Feb. 20 incident mentioned in the letter and maintains he has done nothing wrong, has not been on the property since and has followed all instructions by the NCDEQ.

“I’m just tired of them picking on us all the time. We’ve done everything they’re asking us to do,” Tonya said. She is the owner of Renee’s Demolition and the site is used by her company to dispose of brush, stumps and debris from demolished homes, according to the Sykeses.

But neighbors say otherwise.

David Bregoli, who has lived across the street from the site since 2017, said he has witnessed dumping in the past two to three weeks and saw open burning a little over a month ago. He said it mostly occurs on “weekends when nobody is around.” He has reported what he has seen to authorities, but said they have done “absolutely nothing.”

“The sheriffs have showed up and they have come in and served him and all this other stuff, but he keeps getting off,” Bregoli said.

He said he would like to see the entire site shut down.

“It’s an eyesore, it devalues our property and it’s a nuisance,” Bregoli said. “You move to a nice, peaceful neighborhood so you don’t have to deal with this stuff and yet we have to deal with it. I’m annoyed with it and I know people on the street (and) we’ve talked about it. I feel like the county keeps sweeping it under the carpet because there’s been multiple things done, multiple sheriffs here and yet he still gets away with doing it.”

Another neighbor, who didn’t want to use her name for fear of retaliation, first witnessed incidents of illegal dumping in 2020 and has seen it multiple times since. That neighbor claims to have videos that have been shared with NCDEQ officials of open burning and illegal waste disposal, but nothing has been done about it. The same neighbor had soil and water coming off the site tested and they were found to have oil, grease and antifreeze in them, which leads to concerns they might get into neighboring wells and East Fork Creek.

“They were told in court last year that they had 90 days to stop, but they are still doing it and the state doesn’t do anything about it,” said the neighbor, who is also upset with how NCDEQ has handled the investigation..

Officials with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality could not provide any updates and said “the investigation is ongoing.”

According to previous Post reporting, the timeline of events at the property dating back to 2004 is:

  • After receiving complaints, The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality first investigated the site in 2004 and issued a Notice of Violation for open burning. Follow-up investigations into open burning complaints occurred in 2008, 2016 and 2018, resulting in $3,739 in fines.
  • NCDEQ’s Division of Waste Management started regulating the site in 2011 after receiving complaints of waste being buried or burned on the property. During an inspection, the Division of Waste Management found construction and demolition waste such as plywood, lumber, painted wood, vinyl siding and shingles, as well as evidence of waste, that had been buried at the site. A notice of violation was issued after the inspection. Subsequent notices of violation for the illegal disposal of solid waste at the site were also issued in 2015 and 2016.
  • NCDEQ officials came back to the site in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and noted evidence of discarded materials, piles of debris and disturbed land that had continued to grow in size.
  • On April 28, 2022, the NCDEQ Division of Air Quality issued a $10,761 fine for continued open burning at the site.
  • In May 2022, the Division of Waste Management issued a compliance order with an administrative penalty of $31,800.
  • Attorney General Joshua Stein’s office filed a complaint and motion for injunctive relief in Rowan County Superior Court last July.