Dumped On

Houston was supposed to be cracking down on polluters. So why has it spent five years cleaning up on little guys like Walter Bazarsky?

Walter and Pam Bazarsky and their family already had reached that conclusion. They were hardly alone.

Haseman waves aside any concerns about fairness in this fight. "Legally, we were within our rights to file those cases," he explains.

Bazarsky got hit  with felony charges, while authorities did nothing about mounds of debris dumped near his business.
Deron Neblett
Bazarsky got hit with felony charges, while authorities did nothing about mounds of debris dumped near his business.
Workers Isaro Mendoza (left) and Mario Chavez sort metal waste at B&B.
Deron Neblett
Workers Isaro Mendoza (left) and Mario Chavez sort metal waste at B&B.

Police and prosecutors say it stands to reason that the scrap business will have to deal with waste oil in the junked metal, even if it doesn't handle liquid wastes as such. The entire thrust of the effort against B&B is simply to force a cleanup of the property, Haseman says.

The defense says it took him at his word less than two years ago, reaching a gentleman's agreement: B&B would pay to have the property tested by an HPD-approved firm. It would remediate if the results exceeded state standards for salvage yards. If they were in compliance, then the prosecutions would halt.

Testing crews took samples from several areas of high traffic at the salvage yard and reported it was within standards. "We were ecstatic," Blumrosen recalls. "We thought the end had finally arrived."

Instead, Haseman rejected the entire procedure. Bazarsky and his attorney accused the office of reneging. "I knew they couldn't be trusted," Bazarsky says. "I knew it." Haseman says only that the testing was inadequate and proved nothing.

The more Blumrosen found out, he says, the more he realized that there were other Walter Bazarskys and B&Bs under siege, as well as ordinary citizens.

While dumping and pollution seemed to continue unabated, enforcers were instead cleaning up in another way, raking in huge fines and penalties from established companies and residents, sometimes for contamination that had been there long before the defendants. Those who dared to demand trials found themselves facing additional charges from the same allegations and heavy-handed tactics.

Walter Bazarsky can only manage a chuckle at what he sees as the contradictions. Inspectors warned him that he would be responsible for any dumping or pollution, not just in his salvage yard but also in the heavily littered streets around B&B. The company had tried to get the city to end the illegal dumping at those locations.

"I was so naive," he says. "I believed it." His low-tech enterprise had to purchase closed-circuit surveillance cameras to monitor the exterior of the salvage yard for dumpers. Still, many mornings would reveal fresh loads of motor oil, rubbish and debris dumped almost on their doorstep. A thick file of letters to the city reflects the exasperation -- requests for the removal of wood, tires, mattresses, rusty barrels, orange construction cones, oil cans and more. All of these reports came as Bazarsky's dumping cases, new and old, wound through the courts.

In February 1999, the B&B cameras picked up the image of a large dump truck on a side street. The driver raised the back end and sent a huge mound of asphalt crashing downward, then roared off with the bed still up and the back gate swinging. When another truck appeared four days later and dumped a second load, Bazarsky and others tried to confront the driver.

There was no mistaking these illegal dumpers and the offending employer, whose emblems adorned the doors. They were clearly marked: City of Houston Public Works Department.

"We found that our driver may not have used good judgement in the manner that he disposed of the street repair materials," then-deputy public works director Thomas J. Rolen responded in a letter to Bazarsky six weeks later. "We have counseled with our driver and stressed the importance of properly repairing pot holes. We also stressed that he refrain from getting rid of patch materials in this manner and at this location."

Rolen recently resigned as director of public works, the very department overseeing the enforcement effort against B&B. And the Bazarskys learned last year in a widespread scandal what was really happening with the city trucks in their area. The crews had been driving out, dumping patch material in remote areas, then fabricating reports of pothole repairs that never happened.

At least the side streets eventually were paved, but the pressure only intensified on Walter Bazarsky -- professionally and personally.

Jack Segal, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, had known Walter Bazarsky as the quiet, polite man who attended worship services for some 30 years at Segal's synagogue. He was somewhat surprised when Bazarsky asked to talk with him.

"He was like a balloon," Segal says. "You have to give off some steam or you'll explode. He had kept it all deep down within himself."

During the battle for B&B, Bazarsky had taken solace in the cornerstone of his life: family. Daughter-in-law Kathy had given birth to a baby, and the grandparents had more good news when she had another child on the way. But four months into the pregnancy, health complications developed. Doctors soon determined the cause: breast cancer.

As the district attorney and police pounded away at the company and its owner, the family had to juggle court dates with accompanying Kathy to chemotherapy sessions. She gave birth to a baby boy, but she died not long afterward, on April 25, 2000.

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