A few minutes before the long-scheduled hearing was to begin in Judge Gena Slaughter’s courtroom, the court reporter walked to her station to prepare for the day’s doings. “Which is this?” the court reporter asked the bailiff.
“Shingle,” the bailiff said to the court reporter. With a faint chuckle she added, “It has a nickname.” Yes — Shingle Mountain. That 70,000-ton monster that refuses to die along South Central Expressway almost a year after the judge ordered a business shuttered and the pile of raw shingles towering over treetops removed.
I walked into the George Allen Courts Building on Thursday for a temporary injunction hearing expecting if not a close to this story — which began with Dallas City Hall’s lawsuit filed in December 2018 — then at least a pronouncement pointing toward its end. I should have known better when, after four hours, the judge said she needed more time and more documents to make one more decision in a case likely to drag and drone on.
Instead, we must settle for the few revelations offered in court Thursday — the disclosure, for instance, that the land next to Marsha Jackson’s residence off Highway 310 was bought solely for the purpose of letting Chris Ganter of Celina and his Blue Star Recycling pile and grind shingles. We learned, too, that the city has rejected the landowner’s offer to cart off the mountain only if the city will eat millions of dollars’ worth of dumping fees at its next-door landfill.
On Thursday, city attorneys had come to court to do battle not with Blue Star Recycling, now infamous makers of the mountain, but CCR Equity Holdings One — the owner of the land upon which Blue Star made its mess. The city says if Blue Star and Ganter won’t pay to remove the shingles, then CCR should have to. CCR — which is essentially one man, an actuary named Cabe Chadick — strongly disagrees with the city’s assessment.
There was much finger-pointing, much tongue-wagging. And we’re really no further along today than we were 14 months ago. Some smaller piles have been moved — and two more will be hauled off soon — but still the 211,000-cubic-yard ridge of raw shingles stands along the creek line near homes owned by residents who wanted to see the gleaming skyline yet still feel like they were in the country.
The last time we were in Slaughter’s downtown courtroom was on Nov. 22 of last year, when she found the makers of Shingle Mountain in contempt for disobeying her orders to remove this monstrosity. Blue Star Recycling’s executives were fined $1,000 a day — which puts the bill at more than $80,000 and counting, every day. They don’t care: Ganter said in court filings this week that he should be “discharged” from the city’s lawsuit and that he is entitled to financial relief.
On that cold November afternoon, the courtroom was crowded with activists and media — even members of a national network’s documentary crew shooting a multi-part series on the city. On Thursday the gallery was empty, save for a legal assistant taking notes for activist attorneys who might be contemplating further litigation. The mountain still stands; the collective fury over it has dissipated. On to the next outrage.
The longer this story goes, the slower it crawls toward its finish line, the more disheartening and disgusting and infuriating it becomes. The only innocents left here are the ones whose names we didn’t hear in court Thursday, the families who live in the shadow of the grotesquerie that long ago became a visible landmark for those driving along Interstate 45.
Everyone else is to blame — both sides of the courtroom. That includes the city, which long ago zoned this once-fertile land industrial and turned it over to the metal-crusher and debris-dumpers who made their coin trashing this city, like Blue Star Recycling, created by men from Collin County who saw a way to skim off the top of the city’s dump before vanishing from sight. Dallas City Hall likewise said nothing for a year as a mound grew into a hill morphed into a mountain.
On Thursday, Chadick explained how we got here.
On the witness stand, speaking to his attorney Greg Sudbury, Chadick said he was living in McKinney in 2017 when he needed a roof repaired. Ganter, a former house-flipper, did the work, and at some point brought up his interest in recycling shingles.
“It was something he was going to get into,” Chadick said. “He talked about the positive environmental impact and how there was a location in South Dallas he had in mind.”
They drove to look at the land off 310, where Blue Star had begun operations on a smaller property. Chadick said he eventually bought the land from a former car-junker for $465,000. He then leased it to Blue Star for $5,500 a month for 10 years. Chadick said Blue Star’s lease prohibited it from creating a nuisance or violating zoning ordinances or spoiling the air or water.
Chadick said he had no idea what Blue Star was up to, that he rarely visited the property, and that he only found out about the problems with City Hall after the suit was filed.
Ganter always claimed he was doing it for good — rescuing from the landfill tons of shingles that would otherwise take hundreds of years to decompose. He lured dump trucks with relatively low tipping fees — only slightly higher than the city’s notoriously low rate of $28.50 per ton, plus $2 in a cash customer processing fee added in January — and the promise of avoiding the long lines that crowd South Central Expressway.
Ganter used to say, back when he was doing interviews, that the pile grew into a mountain because the dump trucks dodging the landfill made a steady parade to his site. They were intaking more than they were offloading to the road-builders he believed were going to take the ground-up material when it was reduced to asphalt. But when Blue Star saw the mess it was making, it should have called a time-out: Ganter told Texas Commission on Environmental Quality it would only keep 260 tons of combustible material on the site.
But as I reported last year, Blue Star told the state that by December 2018, there were 47,150 tons of raw shingles on the property, in addition to the 7,000 tons of ground shingles sitting next to Jackson’s house. The TCEQ determined that Blue Star’s operations had gotten out of hand and had no money to clean up the mess it had made.
Carl Orrell, the partner who inherited this mess when Ganter disappeared, said it best last June: “Mistakes were made.”
Chadick said Thursday he has locked out Ganter and Blue Star and demanded 10 years of rent all at once — more than $650,000.
But as it turns out, Chadick and Ganter are still connected: As the Denton Record-Chronicle has reported in recent months, Ganter and CCR Equity Holdings Five had been trying to open a shingle recycling facility up there, without the TCEQ’s OK. When that didn’t fly, they turned to concrete-crushing and were greeted by significant opposition.
City attorneys insist the two men were partners — are partners.
Greg Sudbury, one of Chadick’s attorneys, said after the hearing that it would be “inaccurate to characterize them as in on this together.”
Chadick also said he has secured three bids to have the Shingle Mountain hauled away, to the city’s own McCommas Bluff Landfill just across 310. Each bid came in around $500,000, give or take. There’s just one catch: Chadick wants the city to forego the tipping fees at the dump — more than $2 million in added costs. City attorneys acknowledge such offers have been made and rejected.
“The culpable parties should be responsible for the costs associated with disposal of illegally placed materials,” Assistant City Attorney Andrew Gilbert said after the hearing. “Not the city.”
I don’t know. Sounds like a bargain to me.