House Built on North Carolina Landfill Has Sinking Feeling

Warren Salter has dug up glass, spark plugs, even a car hood in his yard.

ByABC News
May 28, 2013, 4:06 PM

May 29, 2013— -- Warren Salter's yard had yielded more problems than dandelions. Just inches below the surface, he's dug up glass, spark plugs, even the hood to an old truck.

Salter bought his house in Havelock, N.C., in 2001, but by 2003 he realized that something was wrong.

"Everybody's yard is dropping," Salter told ABC News. "What used to be flat land for the kids to play football in is now big sunken areas."

"Trees I planted about five years ago, now you look at them and they're tilted down hill toward where everything is sinking," he said.

The reason, he said, is because the neighborhood was built on an old landfill, one that Salter said was last used in the 1940s and 1950s. The city of Havelock began building out in the 1960s and Salter's home was constructed in 1973.

"My neighbor knew of the dump before this area was built out. He actually remembers where an old school bus is buried," said Salter. That bus in now believed to be under someone's backyard.

Salter told ABC News that he only has to dig inches in his yard to find traces of the dump like steel, glass or the truck hood.

Salter put a call in to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 after he realized there was a problem, and they directed him to the North Carolina Division of Waste Management. He said the state conducted studies on the neighborhood around 2005. It was discovered during these inspections that some cavities, or land voids, are a mere two feet below the soil, believed to be caused by now decomposed garbage, he said.

"I get the feeling that it won't be long before I'm coming home, driving my truck up to my driveway and will sink right through," he said.

Neighbor Shannon Richards moved into her 1975 house in 2001 and learned about the landfill a year later.

"My problem is with my house settling. I have cracks in my drywall. I even have some doors that won't close anymore. A couple of years ago, I had a pipe that snapped. That was before we knew of the I realize that was probably due to that," Richards said.

"My dog has pulled glass out of the backyard," she said.

Richards said the city of Havelock should be held somewhat responsible.

"[The city] issued the permits to the builders. We'd like for them to come in and properly clean it up. If they can't do that, we'd like for them to buy us out," she said.

Havelock city attorney Warden Smith told ABC News that a city meeting is scheduled for June 10, but Salter and his neighbors may find it a bit "anticlimactic."

"As a practical matter, the meeting on the 10th is simply for our office to report the board of commissioners our findings...for these citizens, it may be a fairly disappointing meeting," Smith said.

"My answer as the city attorney is that the city of Havelock has no liability at all," Smith said. "It wasn't done on their watch."

Smith explained that the landfill and the dumping predated the establishment of the city. He said, "Private property owners will have to deal with it themselves."

The North Carolina Division of Waste Management said in a statement today, "We are investigating the site to determine the nature and extent of the waste and any health risks due to the presence of metals on-site. Through preliminary soil testing, we have determined the presence of metals in the soils, but those levels are not considered to be an immediate health risk to people living in the community."

Salter said that he is having "a hard time" finding legal representation. He even put in a call to environmental activist Erin Brockovich, but has yet to hear back.

"The house is settling. My back yard is dropping. My neighbor's yard is dropping quickly." Salter said. "We have a mess out here and we're not getting the attention we deserve to get it cleaned up."