SUNDAY FOCUS: Illegal dumping a serious issue in area

Published 7:25 pm Saturday, July 7, 2018

Of the many problems facing city and county government, one of the most serious is illegal dumping.

Illegal dumping is the disposal of trash such as household garbage, building materials, old appliances and furniture and toxic chemicals on someone else’s property or a public right of way, usually some out of the way place where the person or people dumping the trash believe it won’t be noticed. And the problem, city and county officials say, is widespread.

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“Illegal dumping, if I go back to when I started with the city more than13 years ago, was more or less (in) isolated areas,” said North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield, who is over the city’s solid waste and community development programs. “But they’ve (dumpers) brought it to the forefront.

“Now they’re dumping materials, (animal) carcasses and everything else, and in most cases, they’re putting it on the rights of way, where they know if you can find it, it would be noticeable from the road. It’s causing a big problem. I know one dumpsite where we’ve found everything but a body to this point.”

County Administrator John Smith said the county has no ordinance concerning illegal dumps, adding the county follows state laws concerning illegal dumping and littering. He said county road crews look out for illegal dumps when they are working.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said his deputies are also watching for illegal dumps, adding when they are found they are reported to county solid waste officer Katie Strong. If deputies are able to locate the person responsible for the dump, that person is arrested.

“If we catch them in the act, they are arrested,” he said. “If the person or persons responsible for the dump are discovered through an investigation, then the county prosecutor is notified and he issues a warrant for their arrest through Warren County Justice Court.”

Pace also said anybody who sees someone dumping illegally should call 911.

“Try and get a description of the vehicle, and if you can, get a tag number,” he said.

People caught and arrested for illegal dumping, Pace said, are charged under the state laws.

Smith said the dumps are cleaned up through a Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality program that reimburses the county up to $50,000.

“We give them a list with pictures the of illegal dumpsites that we have come across, and we give them an estimate on how much it’s going to cost to clean them up with our crews, and when it gets completed, we give them a final accounting of our manpower and equipment with dumping costs at a proper landfill,” he said.

Fines can be hefty

On some occasions, Smith said, people caught dumping illegally may be turned over to DEQ for punishment.

The city of Vicksburg has an ordinance in its city code prohibiting littering and illegal dumping, assessing a fine from $50 to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. Each violation, according to the law, is treated as a separate offense.

Mayfield wants to see the fine set at $1,000 and some jail time for the first offense.

“I’m definitely going to push for the jail time, because the fine’s not working,” he said.

He said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the community development department, which includes the inspection department, and police are trying to catch illegal dumpers in the act. And most of the sites, he said, are in the city’s North Ward, because the area has a lot of old houses and there are isolated places where people can dump trash and leave.

Mayfield said the city is also looking to begin placing cameras near some of the worst sites.

“I’ve tried to get the general public to pay much closer attention to what’s being dumped in their community,” he said. “I’ve received very little support from the communities where most of these dumpsites are. I can understand that, and it’s mainly because of the fear factor. People are afraid if they were to see someone dumping and tell, that person might come back and try to harm them.”

He said he has published his office and cell phone numbers, and urged people to call, recommending they get a photograph of the person dumping and the tag number. “If we get a tag number and/or a description of the vehicle or the person, then we have something we can hang our hat on as far as pressing charges against these individuals.

“If you get caught, you’re going to get arrested; you’re going to pay a fine; and you’re going to be totally responsible for cleaning that area up,” he said, “which means in most cases, you’re going to be dealing with DEQ.”

Illegal dumps on private property, Mayfield said, become the responsibility of the property owner to clean. If the property owner fails to clean the dumpsite, they can be cited under the city code and forced to clean it up or the city will clean it at the property owner’s expense.

The irony of the situation, Mayfield said, is most of the items being dumped illegally — like yard debris and trash — would be picked up in front of their house by Waste Management if the items were set out for collection. Building materials, he said, can be taken to Waste Management’s yard on U.S. 61 South.

“We need people to adhere to the community in which they live, and we start paying attention to what’s around us and then be more involved in cleaning their community,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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