Road agent cleared in Auburn illegal dumping case
AUBURN — An independent investigation has deemed Auburn Road Agent Michael Dross was not involved with illegal dumping at the town’s closed landfill.
The Auburn Board of Selectmen agreed to release details of the investigation after reviewing the information at its Monday, Feb. 24 meeting.
“We believe the investigation was very thorough and provided us with a good base of knowledge,” said Auburn Town Administrator Bill Herman. “Obviously, something went on there that we hope to see rectified, but from the town’s perspective, we’re certainly pleased with the end result, particularly that our elected road agent was not guilty of what he was accused of for the past seven or eight months.”
“It’s been hell,” said Dross, who said he’s currently weighing legal action against his accusers. “It wasn’t right what happened to me. The whole time, I’m just trying to do my elected job, and I’ve had to deal with all this.”
The investigation — which included interviews with 19 people — was conducted by attorney Craig L. Staples, who was hired last November after a reported conflict of interest arose between the Auburn Police Department and the town’s highway department, including Dross.
“This first came to the town’s attention in May or June of last year, when police told us they were conducting a criminal investigation into the matter,” Herman said. “At some point during that process, it became clear there was some animosity between the two departments and, at the request of selectmen, we hired an independent investigator to look into the matter.”
According to the report, one of Dross’ private contractors, Darren Wetherbee, was the confidential source who spurred the initial police investigation. “It is my opinion more probable than not that the waste was buried by Wetherbee; he was not involved with or authorized by Dross,” Staples wrote.
“I’m glad the selectmen finally went to an independent investigator, and if you read the report, you see this was a very thorough investigation,” Herman said. “I’m just happy it’s finally over.”
The report may be complete, but the town is still on the hook for thousands, said Herman, who explained the cleanup and removal of the solid waste, which involved strict standards from Department of Environmental Services, cost $20,500. The town also spent $4,523 for the testing of ash from road paving, which was alleged to have come from the town’s incinerator. The allegations proved false.
In addition, Staples was hired at a rate of $225 an hour. Herman said he’s unsure of the final cost of the investigation, but estimated the expense may be in the vicinity of $25,000.
Selectmen are able to offset some of the costs due to a $27,372 payment recently received in 2013 from the state in association with the landfill closure five years ago. The remaining balance, Herman said, will likely be paid through the town’s operating budget.
In addition to releasing the report to the public and sharing it with the Rockingham County Attorney’s Office, Herman said selectmen referred the findings to Police Chief Edward Picard for “any action he would deem appropriate.”
The town is considering legal action in an effort to recoup some of the costs associated with the solid waste removal and investigation, said Herman.
Calls to Chief Picard and Wetherbee were not immediately returned.