Dealing with dumps

Monday, April 25, 2005

In the southwest part of Cape Girardeau County, the leaves have grown just enough to create a green canopy over several county roads.

County Road 255 is one of those roads. The mostly gravel path winds from Route A near Whitewater to Route U. There are a few well-kept, humble houses along the way, most of which have a front porch for sitting.

And then, on the left side of the road near Route U lies a busted television. A couple of discarded stoves look as if they've been tossed down the embankment. A tire rests several feet down the ravine. A rain-soaked diaper box lies among the trees and the poison ivy. A washer. A dryer. A chair or two. A toilet. Mattress springs.

Several trash bags with what appears to be ordinary garbage, including empty food cans, are at the foot of a storm water culvert. The water from the fields across the road drain into this culvert. And after several rains, as was the case on Friday, water runs from the field and splashes over and through the smelly rubble and directly into Goose Creek, which is only a few feet away.

There is no telling why passers-by chose this particular spot to dump their garbage. But the nearby property owners don't much appreciate the mess.

"It gets kind of smelly sometimes," said Harold Gloth, who lives on County Road 255.

The Department of Natural Resources thinks it stinks, too.

While unaware of the garbage pile near Goose Creek, DNR officials say they're having more success catching illegal dumpers these days.

Property owners have the right to dump ordinary trash onto their own property. All other dumping is illegal. Dumping on someone else's property is illegal, regardless of whether permission has been granted.

Officially, the County Road 255 dump is on county right of way. But CletiusGloth, Harold's brother, owns the property. The trash isn't his, he says.

"It's been going on a long time," he said. "The only thing we can do is put signs up, and they tear them down as soon as they come across them."

The county has put up no-dumping signs to no avail. One sign that rested on the hill under some trash said "by order of the county."

"Over the years, we've had several complaints of dump sites," said county Commissioner Larry Bock. "If we could find a name, we could call the sheriff and let him go to work."

But catching people in the act isn't easy. Sometimes the trash leads to names and dumpers can be caught and prosecuted for dumping.

If the dump isn't on your property, however, it's difficult to force your neighbor to clean up the mess.

Occasionally, the county health department is called upon when rats or mosquitoes infest the area. But a lack of planning and zoning gives the county little authority.

"We can't do hardly anything in the county," said Amy Morris, an environmental public health specialist with the county health department. Even if rats and mosquitoes are spotted, "it still might not go anywhere. It depends on how much they want to fight it. We'd have to go to court for it to be declared a nuisance."

Surveillance cameras

Terry Ball, who works on enforcement with the Department of Natural Resources, said DNR is getting better at going after offenders.

DNR has initiated a surveillance camera program that has caught several dumpers in the act. In the last two years, DNR has turned 36 illegal dumping cases over to county prosecutors throughout the state. As of the first of this year, 30 people have been convicted and more than $18,000 has been paid in restitution.

Ball said the program has not been used around Cape Girardeau County. He said it's because DNR is unaware of dumping sites. He did take an aerial photo of a dumping site somewhere near the airport. DNR will investigate others as they're made aware of them, he said.

"There's just not much authority for some counties and health departments to prosecute," Ball said. "That's where we can fit in. We have the equipment to do it and we're gaining a wealth of knowledge on how to pursue it."

bmiller@semissourian.com

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