Giving New Meaning to the Word Trashman

A former top official at the Department of Environmental Resources Management is under criminal investigation for illegal dumping

Ettman's planting phase at Chapman Field ended in May 1997, according to DERM officials. Only during planting was he allowed to store material on the Chapman Field grounds, as well as burn limited amounts of organic waste for disposal, says parks and recreation spokeswoman Beatriz Portela. Officials at both DERM and the parks department believe such permission did not exist on March 8, as the planting phase had been completed. "There was no waste being generated from the project," explains parks spokeswoman Portela, "so there would be no reason to dump anything there."

Carol Kruse says Officer Corson told her Ettman claimed he had received permission to dump the wood from Howard Gregg, chief of planning and research for parks and recreation. Spokeswoman Portela disagrees. "Gregg wasn't even in town," she says. "[Ettman] just mentioned his name. The dumping was definitely unauthorized." (Gregg could not be reached for comment.) Kruse says she gave Corson the phone number of Steve Grant, manager of Chapman Field Park, and told him to ask Grant if Ettman did indeed have permission to dump. "Maybe [Ettman] was supposed to be there," she recalls thinking.

Corson telephoned Grant at home, according to the park manager. "When the name was mentioned, I thought it was a mistake," he remembers. "I thought they had it wrong and David Ettman had ratted out someone who was dumping." Grant says -- and Officer Jones's report corroborates -- that he told the police officer to make sure the dumper removed the material but not to press criminal charges. "I said, 'No, just make him move the stuff,'" Grant recalls. "I was happy because [the debris] wasn't there any more."

Illegally dumping more than 500 pounds or 100 cubic feet of solid waste is a third-degree felony under the Florida Litter Law. Violation carries a $1000 fine, a possible jail sentence, or community service. The filing of criminal charges will now depend on whether Ettman had prior written permission to dump waste at Chapman Field Park.

Less than a week after the incident, Ettman began making a series of telephone calls to Mara Austin, chief of solid waste's enforcement division. According to a memo written by Austin, Ettman inquired about the status of his case. "He asked about the law governing illegal dumping (he seemed confused with the hazardous waste laws) so I told him we were going under the Florida Litter Law.... He also wanted to know what could happen to him if he was prosecuted."

During another conversation, according to Austin's memo, Ettman "said he had contacted the Parks Dept. and they were providing him with a letter stating he had prior permission to dump at that site." As of March 24, Ettman had not produced such a letter.

Austin's memo notes that Ettman called again March 19 to tell her he'd been contacted by a newspaper reporter. "He apparently suspects unknown persons at DERM have caused the media to be interested in his case," Austin wrote. That Ettman would be suspicious of former colleagues at DERM could be explained by his reputation for angering environmentalists inside and outside the agency, who accused him of favoring developers over nature. "It's fair to say he has generally been developer-friendly," notes Dennis Olle, conservation chairman for the Tropical Audubon Society.

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