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Men who dumped paint in ravine sentenced

Officials with the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency last week jointly announced that a case involving an illegal dumping that blighted the Walhalla Ravine four years ago has been resolved.

Jeffrey A. Gardner Jr., 23, of Marengo, and Andrew Eckstein, 22, of the Northland area entered guilty pleas in Franklin County Municipal Court to one count each of water pollution for dumping paint and other remodeling materials in Walhalla Creek, according to a joint press release from SWACO and the Ohio EPA.

The two men were sentenced by Environmental Court Judge Harland H. Hale and ordered to pay $8,060.65 in restitution to Ohio EPA for removing the dumped items and cleaning up the paint-contaminated creek. The men also were ordered to pay $787 in court fines and costs and to complete 100 hours each of community service removing litter from Franklin County rivers and roadways.

The defendants additionally were sentenced to one year in jail, but the jail time was suspended on the condition that they successfully complete five years of probation.

Local residents called Ohio EPA's 24-Hour Emergency Spill Hotline, 1-800-282-9378, about the illegal dumping Oct. 23, 2008, the press release said. Investigators responded to the affected area located on Walhalla Road between Indianola Avenue and North High Street. Ohio EPA personnel found 56 five-gallon buckets, containing mostly paint materials, which they determined had exploded in the ravine after being thrown from a moving vehicle for at least a mile along the creek.

Ohio EPA oversaw the cleanup, which involved removing the buckets, flushing the creek with clean water and vacuuming the paint-contaminated water into tanker trucks for proper disposal.

The ravine and creek were cleaned up before the area experienced any long-term environmental damage, according to the press release.

EPA investigators tracked the paint to the store where it had been purchased and to the companies that had purchased it.

Numerous interviews with employees, property owners, tenants and family members led to the suspects, the release said.

Ohio EPA headed up the investigation with assistance from the Ohio Attorney General's Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification and the Franklin County Environmental Crimes Task Force, which consists of members of the sheriff's office, Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, Franklin County Public Health, Columbus Division of Refuse and SWACO.

"We work year-round in offering ways for residents to dispose of hazardous wastes with mobile collections and a permanent site, which are free to residents," SWACO Executive Director Ron Mills said in the release. "The task force will continue to pursue these types of cases with vigor."

"This case highlights the importance of Ohio EPA's spill hotline," Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said in the release. "The observant residents of Walhalla Ravine serve as a good reminder to all Ohioans to report suspected environmental crimes."

Anyone can report illegal dumping at nailadumper.com or by calling 614-871-5322 or the Ohio EPA's 24-Hour Emergency Spill Hotline.

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