Citizens go a long way to catch illegal dumpers

Keen-eyed residents may have helped law enforcement officers nab another person guilty of dumping trash in Capitol State Forest, 20 miles west of Olympia.

Great. Let’s hope citizens can help bring more of the illegal dumpers to the bar of justice.

Officers with the state Department of Natural Resources are following up on citizen reports that a white GMC pickup loaded with trash was driving into the 91,000-acre forest along the C Line Road recently. The truck left a short time later — with an empty pickup bed.

“We vigorously pursue all leads,” said Larry Raedel, chief law enforcement officer for DNR. “This incident illustrates a big problem in Washington with illegal dumping on private and public lands.”

In these tough financial times, it’s easy to understand how dumping fees at the landfill can be problematic. But there is absolutely no excuse to dispose of trash on public or private property. That simply shifts the cost of cleaning up the mess to others.

And that’s not right.

According to DNR officials, it costs on average between $700 and $1,000 to clean up each illegal dump site. And that’s assuming there is no hazardous materials in the waste. Disposal of hazardous materials drives up the costs dramatically.

DNR officials say they frequently don’t know what they are dealing with at these dump sites. The presence of unknown liquids or other suspicious materials simply delays the cleanup project.

According to Bob Redling, senior communications manager for DNR, funds from the Department of Ecology help pay for prevention, including placing hidden cameras at likely dump sites and paying overtime for emphasis patrols.

Redling said his agency also helps keep illegal dump site cleanup costs down by using inmate labor to remove the rubbish from state lands. Crews from the state Department of Corrections who are supervised by DNR officials removed 100,687 pounds of illegally dumped litter from roadsides, forest roads and other areas between July 2007 and July 2009. The cost to handle that 50 tons of refuge was $400,000.

Those are tax dollars — tax dollars wasted on the disposal of someone else’s garbage.

In the current two-year budget cycle, the Department of Ecology has appropriated about $415,000 to clean up litter and illegal dump sites on public lands. This says nothing of the used washers, dryers and other appliances dumped on private property along with other debris.

How thoughtless.

Residents, like those who wrote down and reported the license number of the GMC pickup truck in Capitol State Forest on March 14, play a pivotal role in holding illegal dumpers accountable for their crimes. Citizens can be the eyes and ears of law enforcement by paying attention and reporting any suspicious activities by calling 9-1-1.

“We’ve also been asking residents and people who hike, ride or make other use of state lands to please report suspicious activities in the woods, and our efforts have paid off,” Raedel said.

He notes the illegal disposal is more than just unsightly and illegal; it’s also costly to already tight state budgets and can pose hazards to the environment and to people.

Let’s all try to do our part to keep a watchful eye for those people who want to save a few bucks by illegally disposing their garbage on someone else’s property. Anyone caught violating the law should be required to clean up other illegal dump sites as part of their sentence.