Illegal dumping plagues Bemberg Industrial Center

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

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By Buzz Trexler
Special to the Star
Charles D. Von Cannon walks a visitor through the cavernous facility Carter Countians simply refer to as “Bemberg,” but is today Bemberg Industrial Center Inc. His demeanor is as a man walking through his childhood home.
It’s no surprise.
The 86-year-old Von Cannon’s history runs deep – six decades or more.
He’s joined by a longtime friend and tenant, Rick Smith. Smith is the founder of R&D Finishing, which is now East Tennessee Chrome Plating, a specialized company that has customers all over the world. It is now owned by Smith’s 33-year-old twin sons, Cody and Jesse, and is one of nine tenants in the facility incorporated as Bemberg Industrial Center Inc.
Von Cannon’s love for the building and a desire to create a space for jobs in the county is one reason why he says since 1987 he has poured so much money and energy into the property.
It’s been a challenge, Von Cannon says, estimating he has suffered more than 90 incidents of break-ins or vandalism since purchasing the property in 1987.
“The police are getting tired of it,” he says. “But I’m the one that suffers.”
As Von Cannon and Smith describe their efforts at protecting that investment and the tenants’ workplace and property, the visitor gets the impression it’s a full-time job – and they would like some help.
Von Cannon says the Elizabethton Police Department has responded to calls, and there was a case in juvenile court earlier this year. Still, there is a perception problem within the community.
“This old building, people think it’s abandoned, it’s condemned, and it’s not,” Smith says.
The most recent illegal dumping event took place about a week ago when what appears to have been the remnants of a bathroom remodeling job were discarded on the Bemberg property: commodes, shower stall, sheetrock, old flooring, and scraps of new flooring. “And they love pizza, ’cause the crusts were there,” Von Cannon says.
Smith and Von Cannon want people to know that Bemberg Industrial Center is not a dump. It’s a place where people work. Neither is it a place for urban spelunkers – adventurers who video themselves going through old buildings — nor people in search of paranormal experiences to come prowling around at night, or teenagers looking for nocturnal thrills.
Inside the facility, Von Cannon points to a door.
“That door that sits right there was $600 apiece. I don’t even need to show you five that have been damaged … I mean, the deadbolts were jimmied, and that’s 3,000 bucks in damage.”
He says it was the entry point for that break-in.
“A lot of times they can’t enter,” Von Cannon says. “They beat the h… out of something and just cannot enter. Because we tried our damnedest to beef things up to where they couldn’t, but they did get in that area from the outside stairwell and beat those doors all to h….”
“They tore up quite a bit of stuff in there,” Smith says.
“The homeless is a small problem,” Smith says. “But the homeless is not the major problem.” The 66-year-old says the major problem is teenagers with time on their hands and inattentive parents. Smith is blunt: “The parents need their butts kicked.”
Von Cannon has more than a financial investment; it’s an emotional one that is evident.
A man angered him recently when he approached Von Cannon, describing the place as “dilapidated.”
“I took him inside and he changed his mind,” Von Cannon says. “But that wasn’t the key: I’m in love with this … place.”
And yet, vandals continue their work: A fence was cut Saturday night.
“The fence isn’t the best fence in the world, but it’s a … fence and it’s there for a reason: to keep people out. If we wanted them in, we’d just set some sign out there that says, ‘Come in.’”
As it stands, there are signs all over the property warning of cameras on site and prosecution.
“We’ve been told a million times that it was the homeless people. But our cameras have never picked up a … homeless person yet.”
The Internet hasn’t helped matters, he says.
“Very likely most of our problems are due to posting of … ghosts and whatever.”
He reflects on how this love affair with the old plant started.
“I don’t know what got into me. I came back here with $3.6 million. I’ve spent $2.2 million right here.”
It’s not that the homeless in this area do not exist. As he drives around toward the back lot, Von Cannon says, “Let me show you something that’s part of somebody’s problem.” He stops the vehicle at a point where one can see evidence of what appears to be a small homeless camp, despite signage nearby attempting to discourage loitering or trespassing.
He refers to it as an “apartment complex.”
Von Cannon points to two other dumpsites as he drives around: a commode, 10 automobile tires, and another 10 automobile tires.
“You’d think there’d be enough signage, right?” he asks rhetorically. “I’ve caught them crossing right here, sitting on top of the fence, not long ago.
“The one that I caught had dropped his cell phone and he came back to get it,” Von Cannon says. “He climbed the fence, was sitting on top of it, and me with a 4-foot piece of rebar inviting him to come on in, ‘Come on in’ … and he didn’t. But I ought’d knocked his a.. plumb off the top.”
He believes the attempted intruder was a 17-year-old, but Von Cannon knows someone his age need not invite confrontation. It can be dangerous.
“You don’t touch one. Period.”
Von Cannon knows from experience.
He tells about once confronting a group of teenagers who were skateboarding on his property.
“Rick’ll tell you, he saw me one day. My scalp was laying over this ear. Seven skateboard boys, with their d… skateboards. They cleaned me out with those skateboards.
“So, you see why I’m trying to get some help?”
Von Cannon says the attack happened several years ago.
Asked whether the teenagers were charged, Von Cannon replies, “They sent ‘em to anger management school.
“And I wanted to go with them.”

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