Two Tarpon Springs men have agreed to pay the state more than $19,000 restitution for illegally dumping waste discovered after a fire at their private junkyard nearly three years ago.
Although junkyard owners Clarence D. Hobbs, 72, and his son, Carl R. Hobbs, 32, initially pleaded not guilty to charges of felony littering, the two men admitted in January that they illegally disposed of waste. The admission allowed them to enter a pretrial intervention program.
News of the agreement comes a little more than a year after Florida Department of Environmental Protection investigators ended a 10-month investigation by arresting the owners of Hobbs Metal-Recycling.
Special agents with the DEP said they visited Hobbs' 5-acre property several times and found numerous violations of state and county environmental codes. A 100-foot-long, 20-foot-wide, 15-foot-high pile of tires was just one of the violations investigators cited. The two men also stored a jumble of cars, appliances, septic tanks, copying machines and car batteries at the site.
Soil samples taken from three separate areas on the property found petroleum contamination exceeding acceptable levels, according to a sworn statement from DEP Agent Dana L. Chianella.
An August 2001 search of the yard, which is several blocks north of the Anclote River at 1599 Rainville Road, revealed that Hobbs and his son also had disposed of solid waste on adjacent county property.
In addition, DEP investigators found hazardous waste that included 55-gallon drums of sodium hydrosulfite and plexichrome paint.
Officials became concerned about conditions on the property after a fire broke out there in October 2000. The fire burned several boats, cars and a massive pile of tires. It started when a spark from wood burning in a barrel drifted to old cars and boats on the land.
Before entering into the pretrial intervention agreement, Hobbs and his son each faced up to five years in prison. Instead they have agreed to 24 months' supervision by the state Department of Corrections.
The agreement also stipulates a timetable for the men to clean up the site and pay $19,124.80 in restitution. The felony charges against the two men will be dismissed, provided they fulfill all the terms of the agreement.
"There was never any criminal intent; the state recognized that by allowing them to participate in a pretrial intervention program," said Hobbs' attorney, John Trevena. "I see nothing for the state of Florida to brag about in the disposition of this case. It was an amicable agreement between all parties."
Lucia Ross, spokeswoman for the DEP's division of law enforcement, said the fine is unusually high for illegal dumping and denotes the seriousness of the violations at the Tarpon Springs junkyard.
"We were very pleased with the judge's decision because of the serious detriment that these men have done to the environment," Ross said. "Hopefully, this will send a message to polluters."
_ Candace Rondeaux can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or rondeauxsptimes.com.