Bill Francisco stands near the construction site. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
Bill Francisco drives past a long-closed construction site every day on his way to work, never realizing that a local company was dumping an environmental hazard he is fighting hard to prevent.
“It’s definitely disheartening to see employees of a business dumping raw sewage on the ground," Francisco said Friday.
Two employees from Roto-Rooter, 311 W. Fairview Ave., were cited for criminal littering Tuesday after a Wheeler Street resident called police to report the men were emptying a sewage collection truck onto the ground.
Joseph Hiatt and Charles Jones were each cited for littering and will appear in Washington County Sessions Court on Aug. 22.
On Friday, Roto-Rooter received a violation notice and was assessed a $5,000 fine for the dumping, according to Andy Best, Johnson City storm water manager.
“We went out and looked at the site. There appears to be raw sewage that was pumped out,” Best said.
Best said it’s likely the sewage made it into a small creek that feeds into Brush Creek.
“From what I can tell, it was within 50 feet of the creek. It was close enough to the creek that some of it was making it to the creek,” he said. “We’ve had some high water at that location. With all the rain we’ve had, the water could have gotten up to that level.”
Johnson City police responded to the location, 622 Embreeville Road, around 12:40 p.m. Tuesday after a resident called 911 to report a white dump truck dumping sewage into the water supply.
The man told police he saw the truck pull into the lot and two men got out and looked around before one opened a valve on the truck “and dumped what appeared, and smelled to be, raw sewage,” according to a police report. When the man approached the two, they got into the truck and drove off.
A short time later, while police were still there, the same white dump truck returned to the location. Police said the witness identified the men in the truck as the same men he had seen earlier.
According to the police report, Hiatt and Jones told officers they had dumped a previous load at the Austin Springs facility at 10:30 a.m., then went to another location on a service call. From there, the men said they took a wrong turn leaving Jonesborough and ended up at the Embreeville Road location at 1 p.m.
“Neither suspect could account for the three-hour gap during their travel,” the report said.
The offices also noted that the tank gauge on the truck indicated the tank — which holds 2,300 gallons of fluid — was three-fourths full, even though the men had said they dumped a load and were on the way to another call.
Best said the notice of violation issued to Roto-Rooter instructs the business it is responsible for cleaning up the dump site.
“In the notice of violation I have also stipulated Roto-Rooter would be responsible for any cleanup and the cleanup would have to be approved by the city. It may be one of those things where we as a city have to clean up and charge them for that,” Best said.
No matter what the process is, local residents want the site cleaned.
“I want the thing taken care of and I want the mess cleaned up,” said James Wright, a Wheeler Street resident. “It smells bad.”
Wright said he just happened to be in a position Tuesday where he heard the truck running down from his house and saw the men dumping the sewage. He said he’s been smelling the sewage for a while.
“I though there was a (sewer) main broke,” he said. Wright said one of his neighbors saw the truck dump several loads at the site as far back as May.
According to Best, businesses like Roto-Rooter are “supposed to take that to the nearest treatment plant, then we charge for the load.” The cost is $50 per 1,000 gallons of waste, he said.
Francisco said his fight to clean up waterways in the area is continuous.
“We’re working keeping this out of Sinking Creek. We’ve been working for years, specifically with Sinking Creek, but Sinking Creek is not the only impaired waterway,” Francisco said.
An impaired waterway is one determined by the EPA to have unacceptable levels of E. coli bacteria in it, he said.
“That ignorance of the people who were dumping raw sewage here, where there are neighbors,” he said with frustration.
“You don’t know if kids will come down here to check out crawdads and minnows in the creek. That ignorance is what I’m trying to erase,” he said.
Francisco’s fight began after his 6-year-old son Jacob died within days of falling ill from E. coli bacteria. Francisco created Jacob’s Project, which has raised more than $60,000 since 2005 to support local E. coli awareness campaigns, education programs and environmental protection projects.
For more about the organization, visit jacobfrancisco.com.
A message left for Roto Rooter owner Robert Combs was not returned.