Indiana town caught dumping illegally into river

Eyewitness News found concrete and asphalt dumped into a river in Spencer.
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SPENCER, Ind. (WTHR) - An Indiana town has been caught illegally dumping tons of concrete and asphalt into the White River and is now scrambling to fix the problems exposed by Eyewitness News.

Responding to a tip e-mailed to 13 Investigates, WTHR found an estimated 20 tons of discarded curbs and sidewalks dumped along the banks of the White River in Spencer, Ind. – a small town located about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Some of the material was lying along the riverbank and some had settled into the waterway, which flows along the south edge of town.

Last month, Eyewitness News sent images of the dumping to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. IDEM dispatched an inspector from its Office of Water Quality, who determined the dumping is illegal because it violates Section 401 and Section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act.

Those rules allow some types of “clean fill” to be dumped along riverbanks, and concrete is one of the materials that is allowed. But asphalt is not. It contains chemicals that can leach into the water, harming fish, wildlife and plants in the river.

“It is petroleum based and contains polymers and chemical stabilizers during the emulsion process. Since we regulate the discharge of fill material into aquatic environments we do not consider it clean fill,” explained IDEM spokesman Barry Snead.

Federal rules also require a permit for any dumping along a wetland area, and no such permit was granted for the dumping in Spencer.

IDEM’s inspector contacted the town’s street supervisor, Larry Parrish, to tell him the town was violating federal law.

Larry Parrish, Spencer Street Supervisor

“We come down here and he said ‘Who's responsible for that, Larry?’ And I said ‘I am. I done it personally,’” Parrish explained to WTHR.

Parrish said he “didn’t have a clue” that the town would find itself in trouble with state and federal regulators by dumping the recycled road construction materials along the riverbank. The longtime street superintendent told 13 Investigates he ordered the dumping to fix an existing problem – not to create a new one.

“All along here, erosion has washed away the bank and we’re about to lose those trees to erosion,” Parrish said, pointing out large areas of sandy riverbank in Coopers Park that have been lost in recent years. “I just knew our park was eroding away, and we were just trying to keep our park...by putting the concrete here to shore up the bank.”

The old concrete and asphalt came from a nearby street – just one block away – where city workers are making way for a new walking path that will wind along the river. Parrish moved the material into place using a backhoe and mini excavator, but said he did not realize much of the concrete dumped along the riverbank had asphalt attached to it.

13 Investigates recently revisited Coopers Park, and nearly all of the asphalt has been removed.

“We’ve done whatever needs to be done to correct the problem,” Parrish said.

But the town is still in violation of federal law because it never got a permit to dump in the first place.

Jon Stantz, Spencer council president

“We had no idea we needed a permit,” said Spencer council president, Jon Stantz.

He told WTHR the town is now submitting all of the proper paperwork and following environmental rules to protect both the park and the river. The process could take several more weeks.

“We do want to keep it clean because we do have people who fish here and who come down to picnic here,” Stantz said. “The cleaner the better. At some point, I’d really like to be able to swim in it again.”

That may now be more likely to happen -- thanks to a concerned citizen who decided to speak up. The tipster who contacted WTHR asked to remain anonymous, but the Spencer resident’s keen eye resulted in immediate action.

“They brought to light some issues that we were not aware of. We'll be a lot more careful about what we use [for erosion control] in the future. I can guarantee you that,” Stantz said.

If you’d like to send a tip to 13 Investigates, please e-mail 13Investigates@wthr.com.

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