Neighbors Angry Over Piles of Waste at Charlotte/Douglas Airport

Tony Merritt gets disgusted every time he drives to his home near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

Heaps of concrete, asphalt, gravel and tree stumps lay piled on airport property off Old Dowd and Wallace Neel roads. Tires, rusted oil tanks, an old refrigerator and other household debris dot the landscape.

"This whole area has just turned into one huge dumping ground," said Merritt, who lives in the Berryhill community. "It's embarrassing."

Merritt blames the airport, which dumps its own construction debris in several areas along Old Dowd Road and does little to discourage illegal dumping.

Aviation Director Jerry Orr said Tuesday the airport debris is being stored until it can be recycled or pushed into a landfill the airport runs several hundred feet back from Old Dowd Road. He said he didn't know how long the rubble typically sits there.

Storing debris on your own property is not illegal, Mecklenburg County officials said, though it does create an eyesore. But state solid waste rules do require landfills to be adequately secured, and records show inspectors have urged the airport for years to put up a fence or other barrier to discourage illegal drop-offs such as appliances, shingles and treated wood.

In every inspection report since 2002, the inspector wrote: "Security at this site is a major problem."

Yet no barrier has been built, and no citations issued.

Orr acknowledged a "tremendous problem with illegal dumping." But he said he doesn't think building a barrier around the landfill would solve the problem, because the dumping would still take place, just on other airport property.

"I'd rather them dump in one spot than spread it all over the place," he said. "We've got 6,000 acres here, and no matter where they dump it, we have to pick it up." The airport has to take the illegal drop-offs to other landfills because its site cannot accept household waste.

Another problem, Orr said, is that the airport is dumping debris and taking dirt from the area near the landfill during its ongoing construction, and a fence would make it difficult for trucks to get in and out. The airport recently finished a 3,000-space parking deck, is building a new runway and will ultimately relocate Old Dowd and Wallace Neel roads to make room for it.

Scott Brown, manager of Mecklenburg's solid waste services, said the department has tried to work with the airport instead of issuing a notice of violation because there was no immediate environmental threat. He noted that illegal items are mostly dumped in areas along the road near the landfill -- not in it.

"We've found that to be overly heavy-handed with these facilities usually results in more problems," he said.

The airport has operated its landfill -- which takes only land-clearing and inert debris such as concrete, brick, gravel and rock -- since 1991. It got a permit from the state in 1999 to increase the disposal area's size from 1.5 to 3.45 acres.

Local residents say the airport has long stored some construction debris within sight of the road, but the problem has worsened recently as construction has accelerated, especially on the site of the abandoned Berryhill Baptist Church at Old Dowd and Wallace Neel roads.

Orr said he hasn't heard that complaint from neighbors before, but he will look into moving the debris out of sight. He said he recently made plans to tear down the old church after members complained that allowing it to decay and piling waste there was disrespectful.

"If something is a problem for the neighborhood, we'll fix it," Orr said. "Our goal is to be a good neighbor."