Officials, residents look at ways to address trash problem

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Drive on many Lawrence County roadways and you're likely to find rolling hills and quiet pastures with meandering creeks running through them.

Unfortunately, that beauty is frequently marred by the sight of garbage: old soft drink bottles, used tires, sometimes even old appliances.

Angry about what they perceive as a lack of pride, some county residents are taking matters into their own hands in an effort to win a war on trash.

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The problem

Windsor Township trustee Don "Bear" Adkins nearly seethes when he discusses it: The illegal dumps that sprout up along otherwise scenic Windsor roadways, nasty little testaments of some people's lack of pride, laziness and respect for others.

"It's on every road we have," Adkins said. "We were grading roads once and found that someone had just set a TV beside the road and wrote 'free' on it."

No areas of Lawrence County appear to be immune to illegal dumping.

Ask residents in every township and they have their own story to tell of neighbors who put bags of garbage along the creek banks waiting for a heavy rain to wash the bags away, roadsides strewn with old tires and illegal dumps that seem to pop up over night.

People who attended a recent meeting to discuss economic development in rural areas cited illegal dumps and litter as impediments to the county's growth.

Karen Graham, in Union Township, said illegal dumping has been a problem in her area for years.

"Everything from bags of garbage to furniture, water heaters, and old tires," Graham said. "This month, however, we've been blessed with a new 'treasure.' Someone abandoned a boat, filed down the serial number and went off and left it!

It's been here for three weeks. …

"What if the boat still has fuel in it?

What if someone decides to set it on fire as they have the couches and chairs that have been left behind?

Someone could get hurt.

The fuel could very well end up in the creek just behind the boat. … I realize the county's budget is limited.

I know that there is little that can be done unless we catch the dumpers in the act.

But a boat? There has to be something that can be done about that.

"… A couple of summers ago someone went through dumping used tires.

It was as though they had just kept driving while someone threw them out of the back of a truck.

Every 10 yards or so there was a tire in the ditch, leaning against a fence, or even partially on the road."

Who is responsible?

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency handles large, so-called "open dumps" that involve numerous individuals dumping refuse over an extended period of time.

Smaller illegal dumps involving fewer culprits, so called "nuisance dumps" fall under the jurisdiction of local officials, such as local solid waste districts, health departments and law enforcement agencies.

Clint Shuff, environmental specialist for the EPA, said he is very familiar with the illegal dumping problem in Lawrence County, and he understands the frustration of local officials trying to do something about it.

"It's been a big problem in Lawrence County for many years," Shuff said. "There were some large dumps that we located and have cleaned up but we continue to see quite a bit of scattered litter."

Shuff said individual property owners are responsible for whatever refuse is on their property, whether they put it there or someone else did. And while this can be a headache for property owners who find themselves victimized by neighbors, the mess has to be cleaned up.

Ohio does not have a dump site fund to help pay for the costs of cleaning up such areas.

The war on trash

Fed up with illegal dumps, Adkins and others in Windsor Township are doing something about it. When residents contacted township trustees about an illegal dump that had sprouted up in the middle of a road, concerned citizens got down and dirty looking for the culprit.

"We dug through the trash and found a lady's name," Adkins said. "We called her and she said she paid this guy $200 to take it to the dump. He takes it out and dumps it on Township Road 82, sets it on fire and then goes to the bottom of the road and puts up a 'road closed' sign."

James Mills, 28, of Chesapeake, pleaded guilty in Lawrence County Municipal Court last week to a count of littering and was fined $500, sentenced to one year's probation, 60 hours of community service and five days in jail.

Mills contended he is not guilty to dumping the garbage, and only pleaded guilty because of bad advice he got. Mills said he said he paid a man who works for him occasionally to take the refuse to the dump and assumed the worker had done what he was supposed to have done until authorities advised him otherwise.

Mills said he thought five days in jail was a bit excessive in this instance. "I have a clean record and I was in jail for five days with people who deserved to be there," he said.

Adkins said he hopes this is the first of many trips to court over illegal dumping.

"We are dead set against dumping in our township. We finally got to catch someone. We can't catch them all but we've got to start somewhere."

Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said his office has investigated several illegal dumping complaints lately and has forwarded them to the Lawrence County Prosecutor's Office for consideration. "We do get frustrated with it," Sexton said.

"There are people who don't care and that's unfortunate. If everyone cared we wouldn't have this problem."

Sexton said with a small staff and a heavy workload, it is difficult to catch and prosecute people who often dump their trash at times when they are less likely to be caught.

"We don't ignore it," Sexton said.

"But we do have to prioritize. It is a criminal act and that's what we're here for."

Adkins said some residents in his township are now patrolling the roads they live on, looking for illegal dumpers so they can report them to authorities.

Sexton encouraged people who encounter trucks loaded with demolition refuse in known dumping areas to take a minute and make note of whether that truckload of material winds up where it should not, and then report the incident to authorities.

"There are things citizens can do to help us," Sexton said.

As for people who pay to have their trash hauled off, Sexton said residents should make certain the hauler they hire is reputable.

"If you hire someone to haul off your garbage, take note of their name, what vehicle their driving, what their license number is. Don't assume that they will do what they say they will," Sexton said.

Shuff said there are several things that could be done to combat the problem of illegal dumping:

A fulltime litter control officer who has the authority to write citations and fine people, county-wide solid waste pickup and the creation of a solid waste transfer station that would be more convenient for many people than taking their waste to landfills in either Jackson County or Boyd County, Ky.

Lawrence County Commissioner Doug Malone, who has been very vocal on the issue of illegal dumping, said the transfer station is moving closer to reality: The county recently was approved for a $92,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to pay for equipment for a new transfer station.

Rumpke of Ohio would operate the station and residents would pay a fee to bring their solid waste to the station.

Malone said he would also like to have a brainstorming session with various government agencies to discuss ways to combat the problem.

But ultimately, he said winning the war on trash will require education: Many people engage in illegal dumping because they think it is okay. Their parents did it, so they do it.

"It's a major problem in our county," he said. "Until you change people's attitudes you'll never clean it up completely."

Staff reporter Teresa Moore can be reached at 532-1445 ext. 25 or by e-mail at