For years, the old Kingsmill Farm on Kemp Road, just on the Durham side of the Wake/Durham County line, has been accepting truckloads of dirt, clay, and construction debris, and now neighbors are complaining and the state is taking a closer look at the operation.
Folks who live nearby say dozens of trucks fly down their roads seven days a week, causing dangerous driving conditions and putting lives at risk.
"The very large trucks, most of them can barely fit into one lane so what ends up happening is because they carry so much speed through this section, they tend to straddle the center line," said Jeff Futch, who lives off Victory Church Road. "I think that just about everyone who lives in one of these neighborhoods has a story about coming around one of these corners and coming face to face with one of the trucks that's straddling the center line."
Dozens of concerned residents who live near the old farm wrote emails offering stories of narrow misses, getting forced off the road, pets being killed, and speeding trucks nearly swiping school buses and schoolchildren.
"We didn't know how many there were," said Christina Valente, who also lives off Victory Church, "just a lot."
About a year and a half ago, Valente started looking into why there were so many trucks on her road. She and a group of neighbors bought a hunting camera with a motion detector, strapped it on a tree, and have been getting daily truck counts ever since.
Valente says they usually see about 50 trucks on a given day. She says last year, they counted 200 trucks on one day alone.
Valente made it a personal mission to reduce the truck traffic and called agencies from the state highway patrol (which did a traffic detail there in 2014, netting multiple citations), the Department of Transportation (which owns and maintains the road), Wake and Durham Counties, the Wake County Sheriff's Office, the state legislator for her region (Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake Co.), and the Wake County Public School System.
"We don't know how many times we're going to have to keep reproving what we've already proved," she said. "And that's the ridiculous thing. DOT keeps saying, 'Well, get us some more counts.' It only takes one of those trucks to absolutely mow somebody down and it's going to happen."
Everyone we talked to in the surrounding area had the same remark: it's only a matter of time before there's a serious accident.
The Department of Transportation
In January 2015, an unloaded dump truck was heading up a hill on Victory Church, swerved over the center line and ran through someone's property, snapping trees as it crashed to a stop.
The Department of Transportation has known about residents' concerns for more than a year. In April 2015, after a complaint was made to Wake County, a county planning official wrote the DOT asking the DOT to take the safety concerns seriously.
Nothing has changed.
Now, Valente and her neighbors say they want a no-truck ordinance on Victory Church Road "This is what we're asking for. To stop the trucks from going through our neighborhood and endangering citizens and just terrorizing people as they drive. A lot of people don't even drive on the road anymore. They go around."
"This is not considered a residential road," DOT spokesperson Steve Abbott told ABC11 in an email. "Restricting trucks on Victory Church Road would have a negative effect on any business along or off that route that required the use of large trucks. And it would require trucks to travel a much longer distance. Not only would we restrict the trucks on Victory Church Road, but we would also have to restrict trucks on every secondary route option with connectivity in the area. That would restrict trucks to NC 50 and NC 98, increasing the distance traveled by four times in this case."
Valente says she's crunched the numbers and challenges the DOT's estimate of the increased travel distance, but says regardless, it seems a small price to pay for peace of mind. "They're terrorizing the people that live here. Absolutely terrorizing them."
Folks living in the area say they're also concerned about what's being dumped on the former farm.
Sometime around 2010, the owner of the then-dairy farm decided to turn it into a beef cattle farm. To do that, he had to level out his land so the cattle could graze. Ordinarily, trucks wouldn't be allowed to dump construction debris and clay on property without a permit, but the owner of the farm got an agricultural exemption to bring in what's called "beneficial fill."
Since then, the original owner has died and his attorney, Keith Satisky, told ABC11 earlier this week that his daughters now have control of the property.
As recently as a year ago, they were promising to seed the lot and bring in "as many beef cattle as the land could hold." But this week, Satisky told ABC11 by phone that the family has scrapped that plan (the one that enabled the agricultural exemption that has allowed dumping on the old farm for the past six years), and now intends to grow hops (yes, hops as in beer) on the property.
After our story aired, Satisky emailed the I-Team, saying there are cattle on the farm currently.
"There have been beef cattle out there for almost a year," Satisky said. "The bulls were removed recently for breeding and are being returned next week." He didn't specify how many.
But many in the area are concerned about the quality of the "beneficial fill" that's been dumped on the former farm. Bill Inacio asked in an email to ABC11, "Who knows what is being dumped in an area that is part of Falls Lake watershed? Yes, it's dirt, but what does the dirt have in it? No one in monitoring this."
In fact, both the state and Durham County have had their eyes on the former farm.
On Jan. 9, 2015, Durham County environmental officials sent a Notice of Violation to the owners citing 11 specific violations but county officials say that agricultural exemption prevented them from enforcing the citations.
The state Department of Environmental Quality is also an oversight agency but generally defers to counties for enforcement. Not this time.
One state official says when it comes to the Kingsmill Farm, the state should have pulled the agricultural exemption a long time ago. And state inspectors were slated to visit the site Thursday or Friday.
Folks living in the area told us change can't come soon enough - for both road safety and environmental risk.
"All of that flows into Rocky Branch Creek," said Christina Valente. "That runs right through this farm, into Lick Creek, right into Falls Lake. Because they're not a permitted landfill, they don't have the same guidelines and requirements that a landfill would have to protect; buffer zones and protect the water."
A source close to the farm told ABC11 he had similar environmental concerns.
"That place has gone way past beneficial fill," the source said. "They've got a mountain piled up 60 feet high." And all the while, we're told they've been collecting so-called "tipping fees," every time a truck rolls in and tips its load.
Despite Valente's concern that tipping fees "make it more of a commercial operation than an agricultural operation," a spokesperson for the state DEQ tells us they can charge per load.
Why? You guessed it: that original exemption to flatten the land out for beef cattle that aren't coming.
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