Ottumwa man fined $7K for ‘crater’ full of junk

By: - July 19, 2022 3:16 pm

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently fined a rural Ottumwa man for a pit of trash in his back yard. (Photo by Anthony Kerker/Iowa DNR)

A rural Ottumwa man who repeatedly failed to remove junk electronics, plastics and other trash from a hole in his backyard has been fined $7,000 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, according to a DNR order.

The hole is about 20 feet in diameter and is a remnant of a former grain silo, said Anthony Kerker, a DNR environmental specialist who investigated the situation.

“There’s just a big ol’ crater,” Kerker said. “We’re not really sure how deep down it goes. That’s why we wanted him to start digging it up.”

The accumulated junk likely preceded Thomas Feltz’s ownership of the property, which lies about a mile east of Ottumwa, Kerker said. Feltz bought the place in 2017, according to Wapello County records. It consists of a narrow, one-acre lot and a single-story house.

Someone who lives in the area reported the collection of trash to the DNR in August 2021, partly due to malodorous smells that were emanating from it. DNR officers found old televisions, computers, a VCR, plastic crates and glass bottles, among other items. The extent of the illegal dumping was obscured by brush in and near the hole, Kerker said.

DNR officers visited the property a total of five times over the course of nearly a year — including once last month — and spoke with Feltz or someone else who lives at the house at least twice, according to the DNR order. In the end, the department was unable to reach an agreement with Feltz and fined him $7,000.

“The reason why this got escalated is because he ignored us,” Kerker said.

Feltz could not be reached to comment for this article. He has about two months to appeal the fine. Such appeals are often successful in reducing fine amounts, and Feltz’s is relatively significant.

The DNR has the authority to assess fines of up to $10,000. It recently fined a farmer that maximum amount for a leak of 376,000 gallons of manure water.

But Feltz’s fine was a more significant penalty than what the DNR recently levied against a fuel company that contaminated water at a state park with diesel; a farmer who routinely overapplied fertilizer to his fields and endangered nearby streams; and a marina that excavated part of East Okoboji Lake without a permit.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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