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Illegal dumping on the rise

Special Photo. Piles of shingles were dumped in this vacant neighborhood on the west side of Newton County. Also disposed of was a drop inlet filtering device commonly used on properties under development. Officials will not name the location because the site is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Special Photo. Piles of shingles were dumped in this vacant neighborhood on the west side of Newton County. Also disposed of was a drop inlet filtering device commonly used on properties under development. Officials will not name the location because the site is the subject of an ongoing investigation.

COVINGTON -- With more abandoned and unfinished subdivisions in the county, and foreclosures booming, reports of illegal dumping in residential areas have increased.

Piles of construction debris, furniture and household garbage have been discovered and reported to Newton County Code Enforcement. Last year, there were 78 reports of illegal dumping, according to Pamela Maxwell, business license and code enforcement coordinator. So far in 2011, reports total 39.

Many of the cases have been traced back to contractors, small tire shops and surrounding neighbors. Maxwell attributes a slight increase in illegal dumping to several factors, including foreclosures and tenant evictions.

"Property owners/banks are paying individuals to haul off household items and/or trash that was left behind and these people are dumping the items and possibly pocketing the money instead of paying the landfill to dispose of it properly. People should make sure that anyone they hire to remove debris/trash is licensed. Sadly, this does not guarantee they will do the right thing," she said.

Small businesses in the construction field have been hit hard by the economy and Maxwell said she believes some are trying to increase overall profit by disposing of shingles and construction debris in abandoned subdivisions instead of paying for landfill disposal. A state law passed in 2006 upped the fines for illegal dumping of construction materials to a maximum of $25,000 in an effort to curtail such activity.

Teenagers are also common culprits.

"I think teenagers dump their family household garbage due to laziness and ignorance. However, when they are ordered to go in front of (Environmental Court) Judge (John) Degonia and are sentenced to clean up a dump site and/or fined, I think a valuable lesson is learned," Maxwell said.

Every effort is made to find violators, with code enforcement officers often sifting through garbage to get identifying information. In some cases, once identification is made, a quick map search showed that the person responsible had to drive past a recycling center from their home to the dump site, said Scott Sirotkin, director of the Department of Development Services.

A property owner of lots off Mills Cove Drive recently petitioned the Board of Commissioners to place a gate across the road to prevent illegal dumping, a problem in the area. The Department of Development Services encourages other property owners who have experienced such problems to follow suit.

"The problem is, if evidence cannot be found to prosecute the person that did the dumping, then the property owner is responsible for the removal of the dumping/debris. Such land owners are encouraged to secure the entrance to their property by installing gates to deter access," Maxwell said.

Despite the uptick in dumping in residential areas, most illegal dumping still takes place at local recycling centers, when citizens leave trash outside the gates during holidays or after hours.

"If taking the trash to the local recycling centers is not convenient, there are private contractors that remove household garbage on a weekly basis. We encourage our citizens to make sure that these contractors are licensed and to check out their references," Maxwell said.

Residents should also remember to cover any garbage hauled in vehicles, as trash blowing onto the side of the road becomes litter, she said.

Illegal dumping citations are prosecuted in Magistrate Court and carry minimum fines for first-time offenders of $250 plus court costs. Offenders are often required to clean up trash in the area where the dumping took place. Penalties can rise to $1,000 plus court costs as well as jail time. Commercial dumping is a felony punishable with a fine of up to $25,000 and a prison term of up to five years.

Citizens who wish to report violations of illegal dumping can email

Maxwell at pmaxwell@co.newton.ga.us.