ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Kent Barber says he’s been watching his majestic views around Elephant Butte crumble because of a neighboring business that is tearing into the hillside.
“We bought this house because of the view to the west that we have here,” he said.
Barber said the landscape started changing around 2008. Over the years, he’s been watching Steve Bell Construction bury piles of materials in the dry-dusty arroyo that empties into the Rio Grande about three miles downstream, when there is heavy rain.
Barber took pictures as he watched truck after truck dump piles of debris next to the arroyo. He said the piles were really big in March.
“It’s not only an eyesore, it makes everybody’s property…degrades our property, it degraded the view,” Barber said.
The neighbor captured more photos as trucks covered it all up with dirt.
“This is what it’s turned into…a big giant landfill,” Barber said pointing to the construction site. “He buried all that stuff so nobody knew what it was, that’s my opinion.”
However Randell Bell, Vice President of Steve Bell Construction, says he has nothing to hide. He gave KRQE News 13 a tour of the property to see the concrete, rebar, scrap metal and asphalt he’s buried and covered over with dirt next to the arroyo. He said there’s no trash and nothing toxic.
“We put it, bury it along the side of the creek to protect our water erosion is all we use it for,” Bell said.
When asked how long he’s been doing that Bell said, “For as long as I can remember.”
Bell said he should be allowed to do whatever he wants on his family’s private land and doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. Though the state does care what he’s doing. Inspectors from the New Mexico Environment Department and the City of Elephant Butte checked out the property in March.
“There is no risk to public health and the environment from having this material stockpiled on site,” said Kathryn Roberts, The Director of the Resource Protection Division at the New Mexico Environment Department.
The environment department issued Steve Bell Construction a notice of violation for not registering as a recycle facility, even though Bell insists he is not one. The state says they also can’t bury materials next to the arroyo without oversight.
“When you start talking about things that need to be done to prevent erosion in the arroyo itself, it is considered a waterway and that’s when Army Corps or surface Water Bureau or another regulatory entity will need to come in,” Roberts said.
Bell has not responded to the notice to voluntarily comply.
“We’ll be trying to get in contact with the property owner to address that issue,” Roberts said.
The state is deciding how to proceed with a required order which comes with a possible fine.
At this point, Bell has no plans to dig up the material he buried. He said he’s shoring up his property to one day develop it and what he’s doing on his own land isn’t anyone’s business.
“If we’re doing something wrong, we’ll fix it. We’ll fix it, but as far as I’m concerned we’re not doing anything wrong,” he said.