PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Phoenix City officials say it was a great deal for a popular mountain park. But members of a watchdog group believe something about that deal is not above board.

"I was dumbfounded when I saw it," said Jerry Van Gasse, who is a member of the watchdog group and an avid hiker on South Mountain.

Van Gasse is referring to piles and piles of rock, dirt and gravel that appeared within the park boundaries last spring. He and other group members did some investigation and discovered the debris was being transported in dump trucks from a nearby housing development that was under construction.

park dumping

The City said Maracay agreed to dump the soil within the park so that the city could use it for improvements. 

"As you drive into the park, it says $2,500 fine for dumping on native plant life," said Van Gasse.

Officials from the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department told the watchdogs the dumping was not a problem. They said the rock and soil would be used for projects within the park.

"Erosion control is a big, big project that we're doing. Berms creating those opportunities for vehicles and people to stay where they're supposed to stay in the preserve property," said Alonso Avitia, who is the assistant director of the natural resources division of Phoenix Parks and Recreation.

Avitia said the home builder, Maracay Homes, was excavating the old Thunderbirds golf course, which is on the border of the park boundary. He said Maracay agreed to dump the soil within the park so that the city could use it for improvements. According to Avitia, the fact that the soil was native to the area meant it would not contain invasive plants and species.

But there was still something about the deal that struck the South Mountain watchdogs as odd.

Van Gasse

"There's (sic) more questions now than when I first found it. Way more," said Van Gasse.

According to the letter sent from their attorney to City officials last month, there is no written agreement, permission, permit or contract that governs the transaction.

"There's (sic) more questions now than when I first found it. Way more," said Van Gasse.

He also says a soil analysis shows that at least some of the debris contains chemicals that should not be dumped in the park. That is an allegation Avitia says is inaccurate.

Maracay Homes issued the following statement to CBS 5 Investigates:

"Maracay placed these native rock materials at the Park’s request to benefit South Mountain Park. South Mountain Park is one of the largest urban parks in the country and a park this size naturally requires regular maintenance and upkeep. These native materials can be used to reduce storm damage on trails, roads, and for general erosion control. This locally-generated rock was provided to the Park at no cost and will blend well once placed because it is native. People who love South Mountain Park as we do should cheer this cooperative effort to maintain and enhance the Park for future users."

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Copyright 2020 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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