Trash dumping costs county a cool million each year

-A A +A
By Alice Du Pont

You name it and county employees, whose job it is to keep our rural roads clean and pristine, have picked it up.

"Our guys have picked up everything from mobile homes that have been torn apart, boats, car motors, used tires, shingles, trees, stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers and all kinds of household garbage," said Robert Presnell, Gadsden County Public Works Director.

Presnell warned county commissioners Tuesday night that the bill for all of the garbage and cleanup is costing the county nearly $1 million a year. Something, he said, has to be done and it has to be done quickly. Calls for work average between 10-12 daily and most of the calls are complaints about litter, garbage and large items on the sides of roads.

Here is a breakdown of the cost for a recent month: tipping fees (large items/trash pickup),$2,689.19; monthly dumpsites (six throughout the county), $11,000; Carolina (Sawdust) dumpsite, $1,500; and rolloffs, $2,135.

Presnell said that costs increase during the summer months and Christmas holidays.

There are four inmate crews provided by the state and while the crews are free labor, each inmate supervisor gets about $45,000 annually in salary and benefits. That does not include the cost of four work vans, fuel, upkeep and equipment.

It took two county employees more than an hour last Wednesday afternoon to pick up trash that had been deliberately thrown onto the side of Frank Jackson Road in the Friendship Community. Thomas Taylor, who has worked for the county for the past 21 years, said the kind of debris he picked up is the rule rather than the exception. Someone, he said, cleaned out a house nearby and dumped the trash.

"It's getting worse. People don't seem to care. I do this all day, every day and we still can't keep up with it. We answer calls from people who call the office or supervisors see trash or we see trash and pick it up," Thomas said.

With warmer weather on the way Thomas said piles of discarded sofas, chairs, microwave ovens, mattresses, and chest of drawers provide an excellent hiding places for snakes. As Thomas picked up debris, carefully looking under plastic bags and old comforters, he shivered.

"Kids will be getting out of school for spring break and this is just the kind of stuff a kid wants to explore. They will think its fun and the person who left it here could care less if a snake bites a kid or not. All they can say is 'I'm sorry' when all they had to do was take it to a dump site or the landfill," Taylor said.

But homeowners aren't the only culprits. Presnell said they routinely pick up dumped construction site debris and yard work trash and tires from professional companies. Professionals, he said, are hard to catch. Presnell is convinced that a local tire place is dumping tires on weekends and at night but he can't catch anyone.

"They don't want to pay the $3 it costs to dispose of tires. Just this morning I had to write a $500 check for tires that we picked up off the sides of the roads. That's $500 that came out of taxpayers pockets," he said.

And, according to public works secretary Rosie Barnes, citizens have taken it a step further, thumbing their noses at garbage collection.

"They are so bold that they bring their garbage here (on High Bridge Road) and put it on the side of the road outside our office," she said.

Some roads in the county are worse than others, according to Presnell. Dirt roads and dead end roads attract their share of dumpers but Pt. Milligan, Bonnie Hill and Flat Creek roads appear to be the county's dumping magnets for folks who prefer the roadsides for their garbage and debris.

“There are certain places that you can go to every Monday morning and people have just decided they will use that spot as a dump," Presnell said.

One of the reasons people dump is they don't fear any consequences. There is no code enforcement. Thomas said that even if they go through garbage and find who it belongs to, they will deny dumping or they will say they paid someone else to take it. And the judge can't do anything unless some one actually saw them dump, Presnell said.

In an effort to get a handle on the trash and debris in the county, a citizens committee was formed to come up with solutions. The Solid Waste Committee met and recommended to county commissioners that they implement a mandatory system, and that all new subdivisions be required to have mandatory services for property owners.

Currently, county residents can purchase a decal for $50 for six months or $100 per year and have unlimited access to the dumpsites dotted throughout the county. For a nominal fee (materials are weighed) they will be allowed to take items to the landfill on Selman Road.

The decal system is working but many residents prefer burning and burying. There are days, Presnell said, that the burning on High Bridge Road makes it hard for public works employees to breathe.

"The burning and burying has gotten out of hand. It is becoming a health hazard," Presnell said.

The county's contract with Emerald Waste Management will expire in December. Letters have gone out to providers of solid waste services to find out if there is any interest in serving the county. Presnell said he hopes the winning bidder will be able to provide customers with a rate that would make it more advantageous to pay for the curbside service.

"This is a hugh county. We could do more and save more money if our manpower wasn't tied up with garbage," Presnell said.