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Big dirt mounds have city stymied

For nine years, contractors from throughout Fayette County have dumped thousands of loads of fill dirt on ”Bub“ Crutcher's property on Athens-Boonesboro Road.

Mounds of dirt, taller than many houses, have created a curious site on the countryside.

And that curious site has become an even more curious case for city officials. It took them years to figure out that Crutcher's grading permit had expired, and now they don't seem to know what to do about it.

Each day, Crutcher, on his bulldozer, pushes the dirt into low places and works to level his 45-acre field near the Interstate 75 interchange. Six acres of that are zoned commercial, and Crutcher hopes to get the 39 other acres of farmland rezoned to, eventually, build a truck stop.

When he started work, Crutcher went to the city for a grading permit. He also submitted a plan showing how he expected to level his land.

But he was not sure how often permits needed to be renewed. ”I've renewed the permit, but that was years ago,“ he said.

Going on the theory that ”no news is good news,“ Crutcher continued to work and did not hear from the city. (Permits have to be renewed every six months unless construction has started on a site).

”It's hard to piece the full picture together, what was happening on the site and who had authority to do something,“ said Cheryl Taylor, the city's new Commissioner of Environmental Quality.

Earlier this year, though, the city found out about the work on the site, though Taylor said she didn't know how.

The Division of Engineering is charged with enforcing the permits. Marwan Rayan, division director, declined to discuss the Crutcher case and referred questions to the mayor's press secretary, Susan Straub.

”There's no one person who knows the whole scope of the story,“ Straub said.

Besides the expired permit, Taylor identified construction debris as one violation on the site.

”Construction debris goes into a specific kind of landfill. We don't do landfill permitting at all,“ she said.

Crutcher denied that he allows construction debris on his land.

”That's a lie, unless you mean a few concrete blocks, and those get broken up,“ Crutcher said.

He charges a $5 fee, so he can inspect each load before it is dumped.

He was notified in March that he needed a new grading permit and a timetable for completing his work.

When Crutcher did not respond, the city issued five civil citations against him, the first on May 13. Each carried a fine of between $75 and $300.

Crutcher paid only the first three and then hired an attorney. On July 8, the city issued a stop work order.

Crutcher has stopped his operation, pending resolution of the matter.

Taylor said the city is preparing to become more aggressive about inspecting sites like Crutcher's.

When the Environmental Protection Agency's consent decree becomes effective — the date has not been set — the city will be expected to inspect 90 percent of active construction sites every month, Taylor said.

The consent decree, reached after the EPA sued the city for violating the Clean Water Act, also requires the city to spend $250 million to $300 million during the next dozen years to fix long-running problems with its sanitary-sewer and storm-sewer systems.

”We will have to begin doing inspections on a much higher quality level than we have in the past,“ Taylor said.

Thirty-four inspectors from environmental quality and engineering have been trained and are now inspecting construction sites.

Crutcher defended his site, saying it provides a service to contractors who excavate water lines, gas lines, basements and foundation footers.

”My site has taken 75 percent of fill from most excavating projects in Fayette County,“ he said. ”It's been a great help to the whole community, at least I thought.“

Crutcher's attorney, Bruce Simpson, said a timetable of 2014 has been submitted to the city for completing work on the site. Work will include using fill to raise the level of the land another 8 feet, plus installing a storm water drain through the property.

If his plan for a truck stop is approved, Crutcher said he hopes to construct a travel center with a restaurant.

”The whole town depends on truck traffic to bring things here, but there's no place for trucks to stop,“ Crutcher said.

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