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[whitespace] Former resident forced to clean up mess in the woods

Los Gatos--Anyone missing a school bus?

Recently, Arizona resident Mel Price removed a school bus, along with a fire truck, a water truck, 24 other abandoned vehicles and containers of hazardous waste from the property he used to own on Harvey Way.

Price's cleanup is part of a sentence that stems from misdemeanor charges of illegal storage of hazardous waste, not labeling the waste and allowing a public nuisance to exist in the form of junk. He pled guilty on Feb. 2, in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

Although Price moved to Mojave Valley, Ariz., years ago, he kept the Harvey Way property of about three acres that is tucked away in the redwoods near Lexington Reservoir. He left various materials outside on a one-acre parcel for about 10 to 15 years. There was so little room to walk that not only would a person have to step around, but through things, said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter.

"It was quite a contrast to the redwoods," Porter said. "It was quite a contrast between beauty and ugliness."

Neighbors complained about the property because there were open and leaking containers of dangerous materials, and they were afraid that children would approach them, according to Porter. When health officials inspected the property in January 1999, they became concerned about chemicals polluting the creek that runs through the parcel of land and empties into Lexington Reservoir.

Although there was no evidence of contamination to the reservoir, the potential of it being contaminated was there, Porter said.

For several months, various agencies, including the Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health, asked Price to clean up the property. According to Porter, Price said the situation would be difficult to look into and asked if he could get back to them, but never did.

In August, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office extradited Price to California. Judge Jerome Nadler sentenced him to 14 days in county jail, imposed $16,095 in fines and ordered over $23,000 in restitution to the county department of environmental health and the department of toxic substances control, which investigated the case.

Price has sold all three parcels. But even though he removed the hazardous materials, various construction materials and a dumpster are still there.

"You're not ready to plant vegetables out there yet," Price said. But, he said, the materials are not a public nuisance, and he heard that the new property owners plan to clean them up.

Price paid the full amount at the sentencing and was credited for the time he spent in jail during the extradition process. An attempt to reach Price for comment on the story failed when a call to his attorney, Ed Kraus, went unreturned.
Rebecca Ray

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