The Associated Press
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX – Old, dusty tires, a torn couch and piles of dead plants are strewn across this desert landscape in north Phoenix. Bruce Rhoads’ work has just begun.
Rhoads volunteered his 1-800-GOT-JUNK? trash removal franchise to help clean up the site, where by a recent morning his crew had found a boat hull and camper among the debris.
The job would require five days and hauling more than 20 truckloads to the landfill.
Businesses are the most prone to illegal dumping because they try to save money by avoiding landfill fees, Rhoads said.
“Once people start dumping, you can’t track back who dumped what,” he said. “Everybody keeps adding on and then it becomes a real eyesore.”
The site is one of many illegal dump locations around Arizona.
The problem has officials from county governments struggling to fight back.
A group of state lawmakers has introduced a bill intended to help those efforts.
State law outlaws dumping solid waste; HB 2493 would add fines of $500 to $1,000.
The bill would require offenders to prove with receipts that they have transported the trash to a dump or landfill.
Rep. Barbara McGuire, D-Kearny, the bill’s main sponsor, didn’t respond to several requests for an interview made through her office and through a spokeswoman for House Democrats.
Other primary sponsors are Republicans Marian McClure of Tucson and John B. Nelson of Glendale and Democrats Lynne Pancrazi of Yuma and Richard Miranda of Phoenix.
The bill would help Yuma County, which doesn’t have enough law enforcement manpower to fight illegal dumping and relies on volunteers to pick up the trash, said Mike Smith, the county’s solid waste manager.
Illegal dumping is a big problem that has the potential to contaminate groundwater supplies, he said.
“I’m up for anything that will help make these people clean up,” Smith said. “Somebody’s got to pay for it.”
Illegal dumping often takes place in rural areas where trash disposal is too expensive or doesn’t exist, officials from several counties said.
The items dumped can include anything from car batteries to construction debris, the officials said.
The waste poses health risks because it can contain hazardous substances, said Willard Chin, the project officer for the tribal program office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco.
These materials are often breeding grounds for vermin and disease.
The bill would add to steps counties already are taking to combat illegal dumping.
Pinal County hits offenders with fines as high as $15,000, spokeswoman Heather Murphy said.
The bill would strengthen the county’s hand, Murphy said.
“Anything that would put a dent in the illegal dumping problem would help the residents and would make the county a better place to live,” she said.
In Pima County, offenders are required to show proof of how they dispose of their trash, said K.C. Custer, an investigator for the county’s Department of Environmental Quality.
The county dedicates Custer to investigating dumping, and he has the authority to refer offenders to county prosecutors.
“I think if we were able to increase the fine associated with that, it could possibly be a deterrent,” Custer said.
The bill would strengthen the position of Mohave County, said Shawn Blackburn, the county’s parks director.
In 2004, Mohave County started a program to investigate dumping sites and get offenders to clean up their mess.
Depending on what’s dumped, the county either solves the problem independently or refers the case to state agencies that have more experience with hazardous wastes, Blackburn said.