Collier septic tank sludge hauler gets permit renewed despite multiple infractions

— A Collier County septic tank sludge hauler has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine as part of a deal to get his hauling permit renewed — despite a 1994 court order that banned him from the business.

“Somehow he got through the system,” the county health department’s Environmental Health and Engineering Director Ken Rech said this week.

Dixie Drainfields owner Timothy Beebe agreed to the deal in September to settle a Florida Department of Health complaint that alleges his company made septic tank repairs without a permit and used shoddy record-keeping to track what it pumped.

The case has prompted changes in the way the Collier County health department keeps track of what local sludge haulers are pumping.

“Obviously there were some problems that took place or we wouldn’t have settled the case,” said Beebe’s attorney Louis Erickson.

According to Erickson, the 1994 order should not stop Beebe from getting a sludge hauling permit.

“That was not written in a manner to permanently prohibit that guy from doing these kinds of things,” he said.

The Florida health department’s complaint wasn’t Beebe’s first run-in with state regulators.

In the 1990s, the health department and the Department of Environmental Protection accused Beebe of illegally dumping septage, the partially treated waste in septic tanks, into unauthorized wastewater collection systems, according to court documents.

In 1993, the health department ordered that Beebe pay a $500 fine and put him on probation for six months after accusing him of dumping septage into a collection system at a camping resort.

A year later, the department fined Beebe $4,000 and revoked his septic contractor’s license after accusing him of dumping septage into Collier County’s wastewater treatment system.

Also in 1994, Collier Circuit Court Judge Ted Brousseau found Beebe in contempt of court for not paying a $5,000 fine the DEP had levied in connection with the dumping case at the private utility.

Brousseau ordered that Beebe pay $100 a month, awarded $2,417 to Collier County to pay for its costs in the case involving the discharge into the county’s wastewater system and ordered that Beebe “shall no longer engage in the septage or sludge hauling business.”

The order sat largely ignored, though, until the health department rediscovered it this year with the new Florida Department of Health case.

“He had thought it was all over with,” Erickson maintained.

Beebe was in his 20s, just starting out in the business and representing himself in court, and made a mistake by not addressing the order sooner, Erickson said.

The county health department had overlooked the 1994 contempt order, too.

In 2005, the health department issued Beebe a sludge hauling permit and renewed it every year until this summer, when the contempt order surfaced as part of the Florida Department of Health complaint accusing Beebe of doing repair work without a permit and not keeping accurate hauling records.

The health department had approved Beebe’s new application to become a registered septic tank contractor in 2000 with the caveat that he could not haul septage because of the Collier County circuit court order.

It didn’t take long for Beebe to run afoul of the health department again. He was fined $2,500 in 2002 after the health department accused him of failing to get a septic tank repair job inspected before he covered it back up.

In September, at Beebe’s request and with no objection from the health department or the DEP, Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Pivacek signed an order amending Brousseu’s 1994 contempt order to drop the septage hauling ban.

That cleared the way for Beebe to get his hauling permit back as part of the $50,000 settlement with the health department.

The DEP did not object to lifting the septage hauling ban, Randy Landers, DEP program administrator in Fort Myers, wrote in an e-mail Monday.

“Mr. Beebe has not slipped through the cracks,” Landers wrote.

Rech, with the county health department, said the $50,000 fine fit the case.

“This is serious enough that we want to be sure we got his (Beebe’s) attention,” he said.

The case began when county code enforcers notified the health department of repairs going on at the Armando’s Supermarket shopping center at Immokalee Road and Randall Boulevard.

Health inspectors found workers in the middle of a job replacing a drainfield and they said the shopping center owner had the permit.

The health department, though, had not issued a permit because it was waiting for certification that the tanks had been emptied and checked to be sure they were not leaking.

“If you have a leaking tank, then you’re affecting the environment, and we don’t want that,” Rech said.

Workers stopped and the health department eventually issued the permit, which is meant to ensure proper separation between the water table and the septic tank drainfield and that the new drainfield setbacks had not changed.

But as the health department looked into whether the tanks had been pumped out to be checked, Beebe was unable to provide documentation this had been done, Rech said.

The discovery led to what Rech called a “full-scale investigation” of 15 months’ worth of Dixie Drainfield’s records between January 2008 and March 2009.

The resulting complaint alleges that the company falsified septic tank certifications for 11 repair or abandonment permits and alleges dozens of instances of bad record-keeping.

“Not to say he wasn’t doing a good job,” Rech said. “It’s just that his records weren’t very good.”

For example, Dixie Drainfields got certifications from the health department for having emptied tanks to check them but his hauling logs did not show he had pumped out the tank, Rech said.

Drivers took the sludge to J.C. Drainfield Inc., an authorized disposal site, but the gallonages Dixie Drainfields reported collected and discharged didn’t always match, Rech said.

Logs showed that a truck had pumped from as many as six locations even though a typical pumping job collects 1,000 gallons and a truck can hold only 3,000 gallons, Rech said.

Rech said part of the problem was that Dixie Drainfield had two trucks, one driver and one log book that moved between the trucks.

Sometimes Beebe would take the second truck but wouldn’t take a log book, Rech said.

Rech complimented Beebe, though, on straightening out his record-keeping since the complaint, including moving from hand-written logs kept in a sprial notebook to computerized records.

“He’s gone a long way to fix these things,” Rech said. He said the case also has prompted the health department to enact clearer rules about how all septic tank sludge hauling companies report their logs.

The health department is now cross-checking the logs against what companies report on septic tank certification permits.

Rech said he has no evidence that any of the discrepancies in the Dixie Drainfields records was due to illegal discharges of sludge.

“We don’t believe that happened,” he said.

Rech said the Dixie Drainfields case has not shaken his confidence in the safety of Collier County’s septic tank systems.

The health department’s tests of tap water at homes and businesses in areas where septic tanks are in use has not shown any contamination, he said.

And neighbors are not complaining about foul smells in county drainage canals, he added.

“We’re pretty assured that the environment as a whole is protected,” Rech said.

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