A Dubuque County task force is cracking down on something that is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every year.
It's illegal dumping, and it's a bigger problem than the average person in Dubuque County may realize.
Approximately $84,000 in Dubuque County taxpayer dollars went toward cleaning up illegally-dumped items in 2012. That figure is down, however, from 2010, when illegal dumping cost taxpayers more than $100,000.
Although crackdown efforts seem to be working, city and county officials still want to send the message to criminals: Don't dump your trash in our backyard.
Along Burton's Furnace Road in Dubuque County, between Durango and Sageville, the county's illegal dumping enforcement officer Tim Smith said there was a lot of clean-up about one year ago.
"Picked up about 30 tons of garbage here in about the mile stretch, and it had 13 one-pot meth labs," Smith said, gesturing to the ravine sloping down one side of the road.
The remote stretch, now closed to traffic after Dubuque County's flood in 2011 and the fact that the two farmers on either end were the ones who used it most, is one of about 25 to 30 notorious dump sites throughout the county. That list includes parts of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area.
Smith said he has seen everything "from simply a cigarette all the way up to large household and personal items. We've seen tire dumps ranging from 100 to 200 tires."
Dubuque County's illegal dumping task force created Smith's position to help track down those responsible. He follows up on tips from the public about illegal dumping and issues citations to offenders for illegal dumping, littering and trespassing.
Initial figures show signs his efforts are working. Illegal dumping took more than $115,000 to tidy up in 2010, and in 2012 that figure dropped down closer to $84,000.
Chuck Goddard is administrator of the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency (DMASWA), which, among other things, operates the landfill. He said although Smith's position is making a dent in the problem, he still wants to send those illegally dumping a message.
"We're out there looking for you, and we're going to get you," he said.
Smith has several surveillance cameras he uses, which has allowed officials to identify and prosecute offenders more easily. Dubuque County and city attorneys have filed some 60 charges in the last year-and-a-half in cases of illegal dumping.
"The last couple years it's cost us up to around $100,000 to clean up illegal dumps in the county of Dubuque, and we figured out that that would probably be about $200 worth of tipping fees at the landfill if they would've just took them to the landfill," Goddard said.
Someone caught illegally dumping faces a fine of at least $200, but could also face charges of trespassing and criminal mischief as well.
In a statement from the DMASAW, officials said, "Illegal dumping doesn't just happen at remote locations in the county. Playgrounds, schoolyards, commercial developments, parks, vacant lots, and other publicly and privately-owned properties are often burdened with the responsibility of cleaning up illegally-discarded items."
Smith said the removal of items dumped illegally on somebody's private land falls to the landowner. Prosecution of the individual who dumped them there could result in some restitution.
The illegal dumping task force united agencies across city, county and even state levels. In addition to the DMASWA and city and county attorneys' offices, the task force also included members from the Dubuque Police Department, Dubuque County Sheriff's Office, Dubuque County Conservation Board, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and more.
Officials ask for help in reporting illegal dump sites.
People who spot items along the side of the road or in a field or vacant lot that shouldn't be there can report it to the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency's website HERE.
Those who observe illegal dumping happening should take down as many details as possible, including a vehicle's license plate number, and call the Dubuque County sheriff's office.
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