Health Dept., Social Services, Sheriff all exploring ways to address illegal junkyard
One man’s trash has become a real bother for county officials as they contend with an illegal junkyard that has established itself on the periphery of Burlington’s Glen Raven neighborhood.
Over the past several months, a half dozen county departments and agencies have been drawn into the struggle with this unlicensed hoard, whose epicenter at 1940 Barbee Street lies just outside of Burlington’s municipal limits.
This colossal collection of clutter, which includes motor vehicles, discarded appliances, and busted shipping pallets, has all but swallowed the home of the lot’s elderly owner Grace R. Barbee. It has also elicited complaints from neighbors, who contacted the county’s planning department last fall to report the presence of abandoned vehicles and have since gotten in touch with other agencies about the debris.
Although Barbee’s property is situated within Burlington’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, the lead on the remediation of the illegal dump has, so far, been taken by county officials. The county’s planning department was the first to take action when it issued a formal notice of violation for junked vehicles in October of 2020. The state of the property has also come to the attention of the local health department, which has gone on to document rodent infestations, sewage discharges, and other public health menaces.
Meanwhile, the department of social services has opened an investigation into Barbee’s wellbeing, alongside an inquiry that the local sheriff’s office has launched into possible elder abuse.
Donna Capps, Barbee’s daughter and caretaker, insists that neither she nor her elderly mother are to blame for the deteriorating state of the property. In an interview with The Alamance News, Capps faulted her own adult sons for much of the junk that has gathered outside the home, where she and her mother continue to live.
“One of my sons…started working with a company remodeling homes,” Capps recalled. “They were taking stuff out of houses, and he was bringing it here. And my other son started scrapping. The problem is that he was taking in more than he sold.”
Capps added that string of misfortunes has prevented her family from removing the debris on their own.
“We’re going to do all that we can,” the homeowner’s daughter insisted. “I was told that I couldn’t run a dumpster and that’s been the hold up…I’m just so sick of it.”
In the meantime, however, the junk has metastasized beyond Barbee’s property and into the roadway, which serves several other households as well as a facility that Glen Raven Mills owns on the other side of the street.
Cliff Parker, the chief deputy under Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson, acknowledged his office has gotten word that the accumulated debris has begun to impede the flow of vehicles – including, perhaps, the garbage trucks that Republic Services uses to provide curbside collection in this part of the county.
“It was brought to our attention that it interferes with their trash pickups,” Parker recalled in an interview earlier this week, “and I think that Glen Raven has also had issues.”
According to the sheriff’s office, Republic has suspended curbside service to at least one neighboring resident – presumably in response to the obstructions within the roadway. Parker added that his office has been unable to get in touch with the contracted waste hauler to confirm this suspicion. Capps, meanwhile, contends that an official with Republic has attributed the cessation of service to the primitive, unpaved conditions of Barbee Street beyond her mother’s abode.
“The unlawful collection of debris and junk at the site poses an environmental risk to individuals who live, work, and recreate in the greater Burlington area.”
– Tony Lo Giudice, Alamance County Health Director
In the meantime, the sanitary conditions on Barbee’s property have become increasingly troubling to public health officials. Last month, the local health department requested a hearing before a local magistrate to address the squalid state of the property. Since then, the county’s health director Tony Lo Giudice has issued a formal abatement order to demand the mitigation of health hazards that reportedly include “the presence of fires, dead rodents, and rodent poison” as well as a discharge of “sewage into a nearby creek.”
“Despite the efforts made by Alamance County agencies, the property owner continues to fail to remove garbage and improve sanitation at the site,” the order, which is dated March 16, goes on to conclude. “The unlawful collection of debris and junk at the site poses an environmental risk to individuals who live, work, and recreate in the greater Burlington area.”
The latest entry into this confrontation has been Alamance County’s attorney Clyde Albright, who has come up with a strategy that he believes can accomplish the Herculean task of cleaning up the Barbee Street site.
“I’m going to ask the sheriff to use his inmates to clean it up,” Albright elaborated in an interview Tuesday. “I have arranged with Glen Raven to let us use the entrance to their plant to park a rollout dumpster, and we also have an order of abatement from the health director to clean up the property.”
Albright added that the city of Burlington has offered to loan one of its mechanized garbage trucks to help get refrigerators and other unwieldy items into the dumpster.
“I’m going to ask the sheriff to use his inmates to clean it up. . . I have arranged with Glen Raven to let us use the entrance to their plant to park a rollout dumpster, and we also have an order of abatement from the health director to clean up the property.” – alamance county attorney clyde albright
Albright acknowledged that this particular cleanup isn’t the first time that the county’s legal department has been called in to address an illegal accumulation of junk in Alamance County. The county attorney recalled that an even more formidable stockpile of garbage that his department had cleared from the property of area resident Adam Lamb in 2007.
“It took 264 dump truck loads to take care of that,” he went on to recall. “The debris was about eight feet deep, and as we cleared it away, we found several cars at the bottom.”
Albright added that the sheriff recruited some of his inmates to separate this junk at Alamance County’s landfill – which enabled the county to salvage enough scrap metal to offset about half of the cost of the cleanup.
Albright said that he doesn’t expect the county to make out as well from the cleanup of Grace Barbee’s property. In addition to a relative dearth of scrap metal among the debris, the county attorney noted that the elderly homeowner doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to help foot the county’s expenses.
“It’s her [grand]son that’s doing this to her,” he went on to explain. “She doesn’t have the money to clean it up, and that’s why we’re trying to keep our costs down.
“I just want to clean this damn thing up.”