Walter Lorimor is the Polluter Extraordinaire of the West Valley. He's owned three illegal dumps since 1980, according to a very thick file at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). City and state regulators say he's broken lots of laws, and for three years they've tried to get him to clean up his illegal dump in Peoria.
Of course, you can't be a profitable polluter and scofflaw in Arizona unless you have your own private state legislator. Lorimor's own private legislator is Senator Scott Bundgaard, a Glendale Republican who likes to portray himself as a breast-beating law-and-order type. He once introduced a bill that called for the death penalty for drug pushers.
Pollution pushers are another story entirely. Bundgaard helps them get out of jail free.
Walter Lorimor has operated his illegal dumps through a company euphemistically called "Rainbow Enterprises."
Lorimor is no Edward Abbey. All of his dumps have been environmental nuisances. In 1992, for instance, Lorimor was found guilty of "criminally negligent discharge to the waters of the state" in connection with an outlaw dump on Deer Valley Road.
His most recent foray into polluting, a "sand-and-gravel mine" at 7575 West Patrick Lane in Peoria, is vast. Officials estimate that Lorimor has buried or scattered trash--tires and oil drums and construction debris and cow manure--on about one-third of the 77-acre parcel, which lies in a drainage area. The trash comes in trucks, and sometimes it comes in at night. All of it comes illegally, since Lorimor does not have any permits required to operate a landfill.
Lorimor has been repeatedly warned, cited, fined and otherwise disciplined by the state, but, according to state files, he just kept on dumping.
The Patrick Lane dump became such a public nuisance that last year, Peoria city prosecutors brought more than 65 complaints against Lorimor for criminal littering. The case is pending in Peoria City Court.
Since 1996, the state also has been trying to get Lorimor to clean up the Patrick Lane trash heap. Among other things, the state claimed that the dump could cause sinkholes and cave-ins and methane-gas explosions. It could contaminate underground drinking-water reserves. It could lower the quality of the neighborhood air. And, obviously, it had an unfair advantage over legitimate landfills that spend money to follow environmental laws.
In fact, the Arizona Attorney General's Office was ready to hold an administrative hearing to prosecute Lorimor for such violations.
But Lorimor hired Jim Vieregg, one of the smartest and most politically connected environmental lawyers in town.
And Lorimor got Scott Bundgaard to intervene with state agencies on his behalf.
Bundgaard meddled with regulators, asked them to make reports. He called meetings. He says in an interview that his actions caused DEQ to become "more amenable." He says DEQ even reduced Lorimor's fines from $120,000 to $95,000.
"I sent a letter to [former DEQ director] Russell Rhoades asking him to get involved and monitor the situation because I didn't feel I was getting anywhere [with other DEQ officials]. I asked him to look at the fines," says Bundgaard.
"I asked them if they had flexibility in the penalties."
The penalties were for being naughty and not following environmental laws, but they have nothing to do with cleaning up the dump. DEQ and Vieregg are "negotiating" what to do about that.
Although the negotiations are secret and neither DEQ, Vieregg nor Bundgaard will talk about them, I wonder whether Bundgaard suggested DEQ should become more "flexible" about the cleanup, too.
What we do know is that Bundgaard found a buyer for Lorimor's illegal dump.
In late February, Lorimor sold the dump to a company controlled by David Crantz, an acquaintance of Bundgaard's. The sales price: $1.3 million. (Bundgaard says he didn't get a penny for bringing the buyer to Lorimor.)
Crantz's "current game plan" is to clean up the dump, says his attorney, Mark Dioguardi. But Dioguardi warns that if undisclosed hazardous trash is on the property, there will be "big problems" with the sale.
Trust me. If there are "big problems," you can bet the sale will be voided, the land will revert to Lorimor and we will be back to square one again.
In the meantime, we don't know if Lorimor will ever be brought to a hearing for his past sins.
Did I mention that Jim Vieregg was good?
Senator Scott Bundgaard figures he negotiated one of those "win-win" situations for the state, Lorimor and the neighbors.
He figures wrong, but that's not surprising. The 31-year-old boy senator has a history of critical lapses in judgment. When he was 18, he was convicted of a felony in connection with a fencing scheme. Later the conviction was expunged.
He was elected to the House of Representatives when he was 26.
He's acted like a wing nut ever since. Although he's a charming, very likable guy, he's in over his head. He naively allows himself to be used by people he believes are his friends.
Bundgaard was most recently in the news for calling a woman an "irrational imbecile" because she had the temerity to complain that he had sponsored a stadium bill that had nothing to do with his district and, in fact, would benefit his close friend Jason Rose.
Before that, Bundgaard made headlines for sponsoring his death-penalty-for-drug-dealers bill. And before that, as a freshman legislator, he supported a bill allowing Freon in Arizona after it had been banned by the federal government and the rest of the civilized world.
Trying to rescue Walter Lorimor is just as wrongheaded. If he were really interested in helping his constituents, he should have helped authorities lower the boom on Lorimor.
But Bundgaard either unwittingly allowed himself to be manipulated by Vieregg and Lorimor, or he suffered another critical lapse of judgment.
He says he wasn't manipulated, that he would intervene for Lorimor again. He says he wanted to help Lorimor "get out from the undue regulatory pressure."
Bundgaard claims he can't remember how, exactly, he first got in touch with Lorimor. Maybe Lorimor came to him. Maybe he went to Lorimor. Maybe Vieregg sent Lorimor to him. Maybe he sent Lorimor to Vieregg, because he, Bundgaard, can work with Vieregg.
(Vieregg won't comment on this, and neither will Lorimor.)
"The deal here is that I intervened," says Bundgaard.
"You're right, I intervened. But I'm here to come up with solutions to these problems. And the solution was to find a way to remove a guy who's accused of polluting from this neighborhood that has encroached on his operation."
But why on Earth would Bundgaard stand up for a guy who has an illegal dump in Bundgaard's own district?
Why wouldn't Bundgaard go after a fellow who had been accused of more than 65 criminal violations?
Bundgaard figures Peoria officials were "borderline" harassing Lorimor.
And he's "not necessarily standing up for" Lorimor.
"It's trying to find a solution so Walter doesn't dig in his heels and grind away at the river bottom there for the next five or six years," says the boy senator.
"It's trying to find a way to unravel this whole situation. The neighbors are upset. Walter is upset. Walter doesn't get along with the government. The government doesn't get along with him."
It does not occur to Bundgaard that the government probably shouldn't get along with polluters and people it accuses of crimes.
Bundgaard says what he did was mediate. He didn't advocate.
After all, his actions helped "get Walter out of the neighborhood."
"The alternative was Walter would stay and grind up the riverbed. The solution is to get people involved to get Walter out," he says.
Bundgaard should have figured out a different way to get Lorimor out of the neighborhood.
He should have supported the City of Peoria, which is in his district. He should have supported his own state officials. And they all should have sent Lorimor off to jail.
Contact Terry Greene Sterling at 229-8437, or online at firstname.lastname@example.org