BECKLEY -- Multiple vehicles, scrap lumber, memorial flowers and several other possessions line a Raleigh County home that has become such a community issue that the state Department of Environmental Protection and the court system have had to get involved.
Some public officials say the site is one of the worst they have ever seen, with past efforts to get the property under control resulting in tons of material being removed.
The family, though, maintains that everything on the property is there for a reason.
Charles Keller and his wife, Oleda Carol, own the Fitzpatrick Road property just outside the city of Beckley. Disputes about its cleanup stem back more than a decade -- from an initial open dump complaint to the landfill to a state environmental cleanup project to a recent Raleigh Circuit Court bench trial, where the court ordered another cleanup.
According to court records, Charles Keller appeared in Raleigh Circuit Court for an Oct. 2 bench trial on three counts of operating an open dump.
Charles Keller was found guilty and was ordered to clean the property by a Dec. 5 hearing, according to the sentencing order.
Documents state his 90-day sentence to Southern Regional Jail is suspended for 60 days to allow for the cleanup. If he cleans the property by the next hearing, the court will consider an alternative sentence, documents state.
Carol Keller had been charged before with operating an open dump, but court records show the charges were dismissed.
The Kellers maintain everything on their property has a purpose, said attorney Michael Cooke, who represents Charles Keller. Cooke said Keller expressed during the trial that he did nothing wrong.
"There was a use for all of it," Cooke said. "They planned on using all that stuff for various reasons."
Cooke said he had issues with the sufficiency of evidence, mentioning the photos shown in the trial. Cooke also said the Kellers made efforts to clean the property before the hearing.
"Some of the photos that were taken, the angle of it was trash that was set up on the side of the road to be picked up," he said. "I made an argument regarding double jeopardy, which was overruled, given that there was three counts of open dump for the same trash."
Sherry Hunter, director of education at the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, said the authority has worked on the site since 2002, when she first was notified about the situation.
Hunter, who was a state witness in the recent bench trial, said she testified she has worked to find a solution for the site.
"It is appalling that every visitor to Fitzpatrick Park that plays ball in the summer has to pass by the Keller property," she said. "Those visitors don't know that there have been unsuccessful attempts to remediate the property."
In 2007, the DEP's Pollution Prevention and Open Dump Program stepped in to clean what it could. The project contracted the work out, and the cleanup cost $24,349.01.
The weeklong project reclaimed half an acre and yielded the removal of nearly 11 tons of what it considered trash, which included 2 tons of steel, 24 tires and eight appliances.
Before the cleanup, DEP documents note the Kellers removed two loads of scrap steel on their own.