The owner of a tree-clearing business and his landlord are about to be told to clean up their act east of Lawrence.
Don M. Steele, caretaker of All Seasons Tree Service, and Kimm Cline, who owns the business's property at 1706 E. 1500 Road, would be forced to have their land cleared of tree branches, junk cars, tires and other demolition-related debris as part of a state-financed grant project awaiting approval tonight from Douglas County commissioners.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is willing to finance up to $7,500 of the estimated $10,000 cost to clean up the site, long considered an eyesore by county officials. County employees would provide in-kind services to cover the remaining costs.
"We've been after this for a while," Commissioner Jere McElhaney said. "It's a mess."
Steele agrees -- "my yard is no golf green, by any means," he said -- but he does take issue with the regulatory opposition to his operation.
All Seasons serves dozens of low-income customers in the city, often accepting old cars and trucks as payment for clearing debris to make way for reconnecting lost electric service, he said.
The vehicles then are made available to the company's employees, many of them hired as part of a work-release program from the county jail, Steele said. The inmates fix the vehicles for their own use, helping to get them to court on time and out of the jail, where taxpayers already are spending enough money to keep the community safe.
"Really, I need some help out here. I darn sure do," Steele said. "I don't need any more crap, because I've had enough crap from all these city (county) officials that seem to know everything. And if the right hand knew what the left hand was doing, they ought to give me a Medal of Honor. They ought to give me a Purple Heart. They ought to honor me in the community instead of working against me."
What Steele is likely to get, however, is a bill.
Paul Graves, chief of solid waste and landfill issues for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said his department would seek reimbursement for any money spent to clean up the place.
The state's share of the up-front costs would come out of the department's Illegal Dump Program, a $150,000-a-year program financed by fees of $1 per ton for debris properly discarded in landfills or otherwise transferred to other sites out of state.
The grant would be the first awarded to Douglas County.
In February, inspectors with the Kansas Department of Transportation's beautification section notified Steele and Cline that the yard debris violated state law. County officials have been on their case since at least April 2002.
Such violations, Graves said, are punishable with daily fines of up to $5,000 from the state and up to $500 from the county. And such problems are not taken lightly, given the potential for declining property values, damage to the environment and other mounting difficulties.
"Oftentimes, maybe they don't seem all that harmful, but once there's some waste there it tends to act as a seed, and people think, 'Oh, that's a place to dump waste,' so it generates more and more illegal dumping," Graves said.
The county's proposed work plan and contract with the department will be up for approval during tonight's commission meeting, set to begin at 6:35 at the County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.