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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Service lets residents get the dirt on Toledo

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
The city deposits fill dirt from water and sewer projects  near the I-75 overpass at Collingwood Boulevard. The city deposits fill dirt from water and sewer projects near the I-75 overpass at Collingwood Boulevard.
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There's a lot of dirt out there on the city of Toledo.

Yes, there's the governmental type people like to remember, such as an expensive shower for the mayor's office, but this type is actually dirt - soil - and lots of it with nowhere to go.

For years the city would happily deliver dirt to property owners as far from the city as western Lucas County or Walbridge free-of-charge and even level out the soil, also free of charge. The only catch for property owners needing fill material for holes or low spots is that the dirt could be loaded with chunks of concrete.

Tom Crothers, the city's director of public utilities, admittedly was unaware of the service, which was informally conducted for years without any written rules. And now that he is aware of the service, he is changing the rules slightly.

Mr. Crothers said it's actually a cost-savings for the city to haul fill dirt and concrete excavated during projects like sewer work to property-owners in need - instead of dumping it at the city's landfill.

"We do a lot of excavation in the water department working with roadways and we end up with a lot of spoil dirt, so ideally we need to get rid of it," he said. "Ideally, the best place is the closest place and it has been in place for years that if people express to us they are interested in fill dirt, we will dump it when we are in their neck of the woods."

A review of city records shows 47 deliveries of fill dirt made to property owners since 2002. The service was previously advertised on city water bills, but most people learned of it by word-of mouth.

William Crider, a church pastor living in Spencer Township, received two loads of fill in July, 2006, to help level out his property after he heard about the program.

"This is actually a really good service," he said. "One thing is that rather than buying some dirt you get a chance to get some free … a lot of it has a lot a clay, but it's mostly good clean fill."

Kenneth Nelson, of 2252 Digby St., got a load to fill in a sinkhole in his backyard.

"My cousin used to work for the water department and he told me that the city gives out free dirt," Mr. Nelson said. "They were helping me because I needed to fill up the sink part in my yard since every time it rained, it was like a pool out there."

The program is touted by city officials as a "win-win" because property owners get something they need for free and the city saves by not dumping dirt and concrete into its Hoffman Road Landfill.

Still, Mr. Crothers, who started early this year when Mayor Mike Bell took office, said he's changing the policy to prohibit city employees and their immediate family members from benefiting. Also, the city will no longer smooth out the fill dirt - just dump it - and it will no longer deliver dirt to sites in Michigan.

"I have now been made aware of this and I believe our getting rid of dirt as cost effectively as possible is an excellent idea," he said. "But what I do not believe is a good idea is that any city of Toledo employee will qualify … It's just my call and I think it sends the wrong message."

The free service was brought to Mr. Crothers' attention by The Blade after city water department trucks were spotted last week at the Monroe County home of William Alford, a water department employee.

Toledo Public Utilities Water Distribution Manager Terry Russeau said Mr. Alford was on vacation on that particular day and that city trucks were at his Erie Township residence as part of the excess fill disposal program.

Seven loads were transported in water division trucks on Sept. 8 to Mr. Alford's home and an employee returned on Wednesday to level the dirt.

The city maintains a staging area informally called the "spoil lot" near the I-75 overpass at Collingwood Boulevard and South Erie Street, where excess fill is deposited from water and sewer department projects.

Mr. Russeau has a stack of requests for free dirt.

Charles Laberdee, of Cherry Lawn Drive, who retired from the city water department after 43 years, was one of the first people to suggest giving dirt away.

"You dig a hole for a landfill for a million dollars and that is no place to dump concrete and dirt you dug up for a sewer," he said. "I took it into what's called the Collingwood Yard but I fought hard for years and years to find constructive means for the resource."

Mr. Laberdee said each dump he made at a homeowner's property was one less problem for the city.

"They took a burden off the city," he said. "In the past, when it started out, I just started looking for places and when I drove by a property, I would stop in and just ask if they needed dirt."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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