Illegal Dumpers Give Everyone a Bad Reputation

Washington state pumpers are fighting back from the media firestorm surrounding one waste hauler’s misdeeds.
Illegal Dumpers Give Everyone a Bad Reputation
Jeff Wilson is the former owner of TPI Portable Toilets and Septic Tank Services LLC, Longview, Washington.

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Guilt by association is more than just a tired cliché. Just ask Jeff Wilson, the former owner of TPI Portable Toilets and Septic Tank Services, based in Longview, Washington, located in the state’s southwestern corner, just across the Columbia River from Oregon.

Wilson says septic service and restroom contractors in the Longview area have been tainted by publicity surrounding the federal court conviction of a contractor on charges of illegal waste dumping. Ray Caldwell — the owner of All-Out Sewer and Drain Service Inc. in Longview — and the company itself were found guilty of multiple counts of violating of the Clean Water Act, mail fraud and making false statements.

Federal prosecutors had alleged that Caldwell and the company illegally dumped more than 2 million gallons of septage, grease-trap waste and industrial wastewater into municipal sewer lines during a 4 1/2-year period. And in the process, he evaded hundreds of thousands of dollars in disposal fees. In spring 2014, a federal judge sentenced Caldwell to 27 months in prison and fined him $250,000. He has since served the sentence and was released earlier this year. Caldwell’s business partner, Randy Dingus, was also found guilty of one count of illegal dumping and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $15,000.

Repercussions from the incident continue to ripple through the septic and portable restroom community, says Wilson, who founded TPI in 2004, and sold it to United Site Services earlier this year. Although he sold the pumping business, Wilson remains committed to changing local septic rules to promote better enforcement over proper dumping. He says it’s important to protect both the pumping contractors who follow rules and the general public entitled to a cleaner environment.

Restoring credibility with local customers is a challenge for local pumpers, according to Wilson, who explains how area pumpers are dealing with the fallout from the two incidents.

Pumper: How have pumpers been affected by these incidents?

Wilson: Well, they want to be known as professionals. But the market is contaminated with prejudice. Paying customers now seem to think that all drain and sewer companies are bad — that “They’re all dumping where we’re not supposed to dump.” Professional credibility is now jeopardized. About 50 percent of the people who called (before he sold the business) asked for a discount. They usually said, “You’re just going to dump it illegally anyway.” The sarcasm and jokes are constant.

Plus, people are resistant to pricing because the other company was low-balling their prices — they didn’t have the same disposal expenses as the rest of us, as well as other related costs of doing business, so they could charge significantly lower rates. It put everyone else at an unfair disadvantage. Companies like mine could never be the top dog in the market because we weren’t the cheapest. And pricing is very important to consumers when customers decide to hire someone to pump out their tanks.

Pumper: How did you justify your rates to these price-resistant customers?

Wilson: We explained that we have to account for disposal costs. And pay licensing fees and taxes, too. To operate in Oregon, each truck must be licensed (for a fee), plus you have to pay for a state operating license and for a septage management plan, which essentially is a license to haul septage. You’re several tens of thousands of dollars ahead if you don’t pay those fees.

Pumper: How do pumpers counter people’s perception that they’re no different than illegal waste dumpers?

Wilson: They have to keep reinforcing to customers that they’re a law-abiding company that provides legal and honest services and pays taxes and fees. That’s the American way. Some customers asked for photocopies of (waste disposal) documents, which we gladly did … it’s actually the customer’s file, anyway. It’s routine.

Pumper: Did anything good come out of this situation?

Wilson: The incidents forced local regulator agencies to take a look at existing laws for loopholes. So I think we now have quicker enforcement and more ability to act and remedy wrongs. But I’d like to see stronger laws, too. We’re a border town with separate rules for each state, and Oregon’s rules are stricter than Washington’s rules. I’m advocating that we adopt Oregon’s rules in Washington. So far, the idea has been well received. Our local county officials love the idea.

Pumper: It sounds like you wouldn’t have any problem turning in illegal operators yourself?

Wilson: Not at all. You have to turn in bad eggs because so many have worked so long and so hard to eke out livings and get good at what they do. And we should expect all professionals to act in accordance with ethics and comply with all local, state and federal laws. There are so many mom-and-pop operators in this industry, and when someone operates illegally, it puts (other operators) at a competitive disadvantage — and possibly even puts people out of business.

Pumper: How are competing pumpers building good relationships today?

Wilson: I believe that competition is the American way. … Depending on the size of the pie, there’s room for everyone to meet the needs of customers. And honest and good professionals are always looking for more ingenious ways to better serve customers.

Pumping professionals lean on each others’ expertise and ask for help in times of need. Sometimes pumpers get so busy they just can’t do a particular job, but still want to help that customer fix their problem, so they hook the customer up with another company. Good competitors and good relationships are necessary in order to do that.


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