Illegal dumping

Illegal dumping on vacant land is an issue code enforcement seeks to address, but prosecution is difficult.

FLORENCE — The Pinal County Board of Supervisors was asked to include $25,000 in its new fiscal year budget to pay rewards of up to $500 each for people who provide information leading to the successful prosecution of illegal dumpers.

“What do we have to lose? Let’s try it, be innovative,” Supervisor Jeff Serdy, R-Apache Junction, said. The board took no action Wednesday.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said the county used to have an award-winning program to fight desert dumping, but it was defunded during the recession. The program as it exists today has not been effective, Volkmer told the board.

Dave Coward of the new nonprofit Gold Canyon Community Inc. commented that his group is fully supportive. “It really fits with one of the key areas in our community. We are concerned about our open spaces and trails, and you don’t have to go very far to find couches and TVs and whatever all over the place. In our community we do sponsor those kinds of cleanups, but it’s never enough.” He also spoke in favor of providing vouchers for proper disposal in landfills.

Anyone taking a drive or a hike in the desert is likely to see dump sites, Volkmer said. One area resident has created his own website and publicly shames illegal dumpers on Facebook.

The legal term, he said, is criminal littering. Most dumping is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail. Dumping large amounts or for a commercial purpose can be charged as a felony. However, “we won’t prosecute our way out of this problem,” Volkmer told the board. “…I ask you to let us work as a community to address this issue.”

The rewards fund would be replenished by offenders being ordered to pay a fine and fix the problem. If they complete a diversion program, including 20 hours of community service at cleanup events, their charges would be dismissed.

Volkmer proposed a one-year pilot project to see if the plan works. He proposed the board give direction to various county departments to collaborate and schedule desert cleanup days. The county would provide roll-off trash bins for taking the refuse to landfills.

The Sheriff’s Office would also commit to following up on leads and submitting charges for prosecution.

Volkmer told the board to be successful in curbing illegal dumping, Pinal County needs to make the consequences severe enough to discourage the behavior, but not so severe that it harms residents’ long-term job prospects. He said a hefty but reasonable fine, combined with less-than-enjoyable community service, is his solution.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.