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Trash found dumped in Railroad Wash

Cottonwood News

Another allegation of illegal dumping, this time within Cottonwood city limits, prompted state officials to take a second and third look at a wash that flows under State Route 89A near Cottonwood Municipal Airport.

Somebody dumped pipes, concrete, chain-link fence and other solid waste into the wash, which is situated behind a West Cottonwood auto body shop.

During the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s first inspection of the site Aug. 25, investigators found solid waste, residue not native to the area and sections of the ground stained dark green.

ADEQ was unable to determine the person or business responsible, ADEQ reported Friday, Sept. 30.

Jeff Thomas, a former employee of Black Hills Excavation, points on Aug. 30 to a flow of trash and debris into Del Monte Wash from outside the open back gate of the business. Thomas filed a complaint about multiple alleged environmental infractions with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which has been investigating the accusations since Aug. 25.The report, part of an ongoing investigation, was completed nearly six months after the dumping was first alleged by Cottonwood resident Jeff Thomas.

Thomas claims he saw trucks dump thousands of gallons of green, sticky, foul-smelling sludge into Del Monte Wash, known locally as Railroad Wash, starting in April 2010.

Thomas alleges the sludge came from Cottonwood Auto Spa, a car wash formerly co-owned by Cottonwood businessman Brent Deal.

Deal is proprietor of Black Hills Auto Body, an auto body shop located at 951 Black Hills Drive. Deal’s shop abuts Del Monte Wash, where ADEQ reported solid waste and residue was discovered.

Thomas alleges Deal dumped multiple truckloads of sludge from the auto spa into the wash. Deal denies the allegations.

Black Hills Auto Body employees are trained to properly handle and dispose of chemicals, oil and other products used in shop operations, Deal said.

“I have no idea why [Jeff Thomas] would make something like this up,” Deal said. “It never happened.”

Deal fired Thomas from his job at Black Hills Excavation, another of Deal’s businesses, earlier this year.

Thomas also alleges Deal is trying to cover the dump site with dirt.

Deal said he moved small amounts of dirt over an area next to the wash and shored up an embankment leading to the wash from a gate at the back of his shop.

Deal moved so much dirt city officials who inspected the site in September requested him to meet with them about obtaining a permit for the work, Cottonwood Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

Deal said the road was in place long before Thomas made his claims. He said he recently covered the embankment with two to three inches of dirt, but is not trying to cover anything up.

ADEQ officials returned to Black Hills Auto Body for a second inspection Monday, Oct. 3, to investigate a 4-inch pipe that drains from the auto body shop premises into Del Monte Wash.

Deal said the pipe is used to drain overflow from a water-retention pond located on the shop’s property.

“It’s never overflowed,” Deal said.

ADEQ officials were still preparing a report about the latest inspection as of press time.

ADEQ did not hold Deal responsible for any of the alleged dumping, but directed owners of the property to remove the fencing, concrete and other solid waste, including some that already washed downstream. Deal said he owned the property behind his business extending into the wash.

Deal said he did not know who dumped solid waste into the wash and had yet to decide whether he would take action to clean it up.

Wash Overlooked The Sept. 29 site inspection of Del Monte Wash was not the first time ADEQ looked into Thomas’ allegations.

Thomas originally reported the alleged dumping to Cottonwood Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder on April 7. Lueder immediately forwarded the complaint to ADEQ officials.

“It was an issue outside the city’s authority,” Lueder said.

Based on Lueder’s referral, ADEQ compliance officer John Burross inspected Cottonwood Auto Spa on May 26 but did not inspect Del Monte Wash where Thomas alleges sludge was dumped.

Burross concluded the car wash complied with ADEQ regulations, according to a June 16 letter to Cottonwood Auto Spa Manager Jesse Donoghue.

As for the sludge, however, Burross declared the alleged dumping could not have happened because geography near the auto body shop did not allow it.

ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer confirmed Burross did not inspect the wash May 26. Instead, he drove past Black Hills Auto Body and decided access to the alleged dump site was impossible.

“The sand cannot be dumped behind the Black Hills Auto Body as alleged in the complaint. That facility is nearly four miles away [from Cottonwood Auto Spa] and abuts into a mountain with no access to the top of the mountain,” Burross wrote.

Black Hills Auto Body operates near the base of Mingus Mountain but does not “abut” the mountain. Access to the wash can be gained through a gate at the back of the business.

Thomas alleges ADEQ’s failure to properly investigate his allegations in April allowed evidence of the sludge to be washed away or covered over.

Despite the June 16 letter exonerating Cottonwood Auto Spa, Thomas persisted with his complaints about the dumping, alleging he and co-workers were exposed to the sludge and it made them ill.

Thomas complained again about the alleged dumping to officials at Cottonwood Community Development Department on Aug. 14, where a police officer pushed him after he allegedly became disruptive, according to a Cottonwood Police Department report.

City officials told Thomas ADEQ closed the case and there was nothing more the city could do. Thomas then contacted ADEQ again, demanding investigators take soil samples in the area where he alleges sludge was dumped.

In response to Thomas’ second complaint, ADEQ was unable to determine whether sludge was dumped at the site, ADEQ investigator Daniel Czecholinski stated in the Sept. 30 report.

A report on the investigation into the overflow drainage pipe is forthcoming, Czecholinski stated.