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Illegal Fort Worth dump cleaned up

FORT WORTH -- After four years and millions of taxpayer dollars, a massive illegal dump in east Fort Worth has finally been cleaned up, although it isn’t clear if the people responsible will ever be forced to pay.

“This was an extraordinary mess,” Mayor Mike Moncrief said at a Monday news conference.

The dump was owned by several related companies, including Resource Waste Services and Walker Branch Recycling. It began as a legitimate operation, with a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. At one point, Resource Waste Services was a subcontractor to Waste Management, the company that collects Fort Worth’s trash.

But Resource Waste lost its city contract after numerous complaints. And the company evidently stopped recycling material. Instead, it began simply piling the material on the site in the 3000 block of Precinct Line Road.

The TCEQ was unable to stop the company. It issued administrative orders but took no criminal action, Executive Director Mark Vickery said.

“Intent has to be proven, often times” for a criminal case, Vickery said. “We’re an administrative agency.”

The city Code Enforcement Department issued numerous citations, and even filed criminal charges against the company’s owners and employees, Code Enforcement Director Brandon Bennett said. The outcome of those cases wasn’t clear Monday.

The city sued the company in 2004, but the firm filed for bankruptcy the day before the city’s suit was to go to court.

Bankruptcy documents showed that the company was leasing luxury cars for its president Earl Burrell, and his family members.

But by then, debris was piled four stories high on the 16-acre site. A small fire broke out at the site in late 2005. It was quickly extinguished, but it illustrated the potential danger. Fire officials said a larger fire could have forced the evacuation of thousands of home and businesses and burned for days, Assistant City Attorney T.J. Patterson Jr. said.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature approved more than $2 million to clean up the site. The total cost came to $2.6 million, with the city providing $280,000, Vickery said.

State Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, who helped secure the funding along with state Rep. Kelly Hancock, R-Fort Worth, said it took 3,600 truckloads to remove the debris.

“We also want those responsible to be held accountable,” Brimer said.

The TCEQ has since changed its rules and requires companies that run recycling centers to prove their financial stability. The TCEQ is working with the Texas Attorney General’s office to collect some of the cleanup money.

The land is now owned by a Houston-based bankruptcy trustee, Patterson said. Burrell, the former company president, is still believed to live in Tarrant County.

Residents said they were relieved that the cleanup was finally over.

“There’s a frustration on our part that it took so long,” said Don Devous, president of the River Trails Homeowners’ Association. “We’ve got to keep aware of these types of sites. We’ve got to make them aware that they will be monitored.”