Highland owner found guilty in dumping trial

Published 10:01 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SOUTH POINT — The owner of a prominent cemetery has been found guilty of open dumping on his property.

Monday afternoon a nine woman-three man Lawrence County Common Pleas Court jury found Larry Carter guilty of the unclassified felony. Carter is owner of Highland Memorial Gardens in South Point.

He could face a maximum fine of $25,000 and four years in prison.

For the past five years the Ohio EPA and the Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Management District have wrangled with Carter over plastic flowers and pots that have come off graves that were disposed of by dumping them over a bank at the edge of the cemetery.

In 2009, Carter was indicted for illegal dumping for violations cited by the state EPA in June of that year.

At issue during the trial was not whether the flowers had been dumped. Instead Michael Davenport, Carter’s attorney, offered the argument that the debris was essentially harmless and that it is made out of the same substance as burial vaults and water and sewer lines that are buried with impunity.

“Plastic flowers. What is the harm in that?” Davenport asked in cross-examination of state witness Clint Shuff of the Ohio EPA. “What is the harm compared to mine acid rain, which is apparently exempt (from the regulations)?”

Shuff said the debris could potentially hold water, which could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Also Shuff said the makeshift dumping ground was not a licensed landfill since it did not have the required leachate and liner systems, plus ground water monitoring.

“If you had a landfill exclusively for plastic flowers, you wouldn’t need a leachate liner,” Davenport said. “There would be no toxic waste. Realistically, plastic flowers buried behind a cemetery, they are causing no physical harm. Basically the violation is by not being a licensed landfill. If he had jumped through your hoops, got a permit, he’d be okay.”

Davenport also pointed out that Carter had cleaned up part of the site.

However, Lawrence County Assistant Prosecutor Mack Anderson argued that the issue was that open dumping is a violation of the statute.

“I think that Mr. Carter believed that the majority of what he dumped, plastic, shouldn’t be against the law,” Anderson said.

But it was the jury’s responsibility to determine if the law had been broken, not if the law was appropriate, the prosecutor said.

“We are pleased with the jury verdict,” Anderson said after the trial. “It is just a sign we want to clean up the county and not have open dump sites.”

Carter declined comment as he was leaving the courthouse. But Monday afternoon he dropped off at The Tribune office eight photographs and a written statement. The photographs show a dumpster and large-size black garbage bags gathered in piles at several locations in the cemetery.

In a note accompanying the statement Carter wrote that he showed his attorney this statement the morning of the trial, but that he “expressed indifference.”

The statement is as follows:

“The concept of ‘open dumping’ in these charges is grossly taken out of context! With all the industrial polypropylene being used today at burial vaults, water lines, gas lines, telephone lines, sewer lines, it makes no sense at calling covering flowers/baskets open dumping; that’s a misnomer!

“Open dumping is generic for one size fits all.

“All of these polypropylene lines are what South Point utilities have used on our property and also our next door neighbors at the new South Point High School and the new Highway Patrol Post being built right next to the new school.

“In these hard and difficult times as a nation, as a business, as a people why are we being burdened with a ‘no brainer’ lawsuit over ‘polypropylene’ being covered up in the form of flowers/baskets. Where is the logic here. If we didn’t cover these flowers, flower baskets, it might make more sense at ‘open dumping.’ “

Carter will be sentenced Wednesday morning by Judge D. Scott Bowling.