Stump dump owner files for Chapter 11

December 24, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

With millions of dollars in court judgments against him, Granite stump dump owner James F. Jett has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for himself and his Patapsco Valley Farms business on Dogwood Road.

An angry Mr. Jett yesterday termed the filing a "reorganization" forced on him by lost income stemming from the huge fire that erupted at his stump dump on Feb. 2, 1991.

"The county's the reason this happened," he said. "They didn't put the . . . fire out!"

He reiterated his contention that a local Granite youth set the fire, which wasn't fully controlled until December 1992. County fire officials still say the cause of the blaze is undetermined.

Mr. Jett and his company have just over $3 million in judgments against them in Baltimore County Circuit Court from one firm alone -- Pennwest Farm Credit of Bedford, Pa. A company spokesman said Pennwest is an agricultural credit association that lends money to farmers who own land in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Puerto Rico.

In his bankruptcy filings, Mr. Jett listed $1.27 million in company debts and $2.2 million in personal debts, compared with $2 million in total assets.

He listed debts of $1,685,402 to the Pennwest firm in the bankruptcy filings, but some judgments against him are not included in the list of debts in the bankruptcy documents.

The bankruptcy filings indicate he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to scores of other creditors, including suppliers, banks and credit companies, the state of Maryland, the Internal Revenue Service and his lawyer, Michael Tanczyn.

Despite the bankruptcy, Mr. Jett is operating his business. He has sold Christmas trees grown on his land and is taking in new stumps from building contractors who pay him dumping fees, neighbors said.

In fact, the bizarre and tangled struggle over the dump's operation has come full circle, with area residents once again complaining about stump dump traffic.

"He gets 25 trucks a day," said Bob Meekins, a who lives close to the Dogwood Road property.

The dispute began in the mid-1980s when residents of the rural area of western Baltimore County began complaining about the truck traffic and the dump's operation. But, with Mr. Tanczyn's help, Mr. Jett ultimately defeated all attempts by both county and state governments close him down or even regulate the operation.

The fire erupted in what was, by then, a five-acre sea of tree stumps that were piled 100 feet high in some places. Smoke from the blaze at times irritated much of the Baltimore metropolitan area while county fire officials looked for ways to stop the conflagration.

The fire smoldered and flared for 18 months. In the end, $700,000 worth of dirt applied by the Maryland Environmental Service buried the remaining embers a year ago.

Meanwhile, County Executive Roger B. Hayden vowed to stop Mr. Jett by buying the land for a future park -- an idea that died as the recession pinched the county budget. The county also passed a law to regulate stump dumps, but Mr. Jett argued that his operation wasn't covered because it existed before the law was passed.

He is still seeking county and state operating permits.

Mr. Jett was allowed to resume limited operations in February, after a court injunction stopping his business was lifted.

In November, he made a deal with county officials. They agreed to drop a lawsuit against him and allowed him to accept new stumps on one-third of the fire site. He agreed to grow Christmas trees on two-thirds of the site for at least three years and withdrew the threat of a federal lawsuit against the county.

An $8.5 million civil suit filed against Mr. Jett by nearby residents is pending in Circuit Court.

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