Code enforcement officers often trace garbage back to perpetrators and cite them

Last updated: January 25. 2014 11:35AM - 2406 Views

Troup County Code Enforcement officer Jim McLaughlin looks at a site where household items and furniture were dumped off East Beasley Road.
Troup County Code Enforcement officer Jim McLaughlin looks at a site where household items and furniture were dumped off East Beasley Road.
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It’s an isolated spot at the end of East Beasley Road. Through the trees, the outline and motion of tractor-trailers can be seen as they drive along Interstate 185, but there otherwise is nothing out here.

The code enforcement vehicle stops. At the end of an old clearing, where a trailer once stood years earlier, there are a couple of red couches visible from the road.

Troup County Code Enforcement officer Jim McLaughlin walks over to investigate and finds much more has been dumped here: a cabinet, mattress, box springs, TV, bags of old children’s and women’s clothes, household trash, toys and video game accessories.

It looks like someone cleaned house, and instead of taking the items to the dump, which sits only a couple of miles away, they chose to back up a truck to this isolated area. McLaughlin sifts through the items, seeing if anything left might leave a clue to whom it belongs.

It may seem like a long shot, but McLaughlin said about seven out of 10 cases of illegal dumping lead back to someone that he can cite. The first citations for illegal dumping in the county will set someone back about $400.

“If you are too lazy to go take it off, then maybe you need (a citation),” McLaughlin said. “A lot of people will live less than a mile from a convenience center, and still – trash, trash, trash.”

McLaughlin calculated that the initial citation alone is enough for a county resident to buy about two and half years of curbside pickup with a private company. After a second offense, the perpetrator has to go before a judge and face up to $1,000 or 10 days in jail. Some have opted for jail time, McLaughlin said.

West Hopson Road is one of the most-used roads for illegal dumpers, McLaughlin said, along with East Beasley and Towns roads. Although any isolated areas are more susceptible to be used for dumping grounds.

“I’ve written more citations for illegal dumping than anything (else) in Troup County,” said McLaughlin, whose purview as code enforcement also includes responding to complaints of people with junk or obstructions in their yards.

In LaGrange, city code enforcement doesn’t see as much illegal dumping, something officers said was because illegal dumping is more prevalent in isolated areas, which is less prevalent in the city compared to unincorporated county.

LaGrange police Sgt. Johnny Byrd, code enforcement supervisor, said the city still has a few problem spots, but has a handle on most of it.

“There are some areas that we focus on as far as dumping is concerned, but as a whole we’ve got a pretty good hold on it,” Byrd said.

LaGrange Code Enforcement officer Angela Pace said that tires are the most common item they see dumped in the city. She said she’s found as many as 30 in one location.

Pace estimated about 75 to 85 percent of the city’s illegal dumping reports otherwise lead them back to someone. Although the problem with tires dumped is that there is usually no way to trace the dumper, unless there is a witness.

“Tires are a major concern in the city, there is no way to track those back,” said LaGrange Code Enforcement officer Jimmy Ivey.

“Unless we get a tip from a concerned citizen,” Byrd added.

In the county, McLaughlin also sees plenty of tires, along with mattresses and TVs as the most frequent items he finds dumped.

McLaughlin said he gets about two to three calls a week of illegal dumping. Those aren’t limited to just household trash. McLaughlin also receives calls of construction debris being dumped on people’s property.

Tuesday, he responded to a resident who called after noticing someone had dumped several bags in the woods next to their home. McLaughlin investigated and believes the bags were likely dumped earlier, when vegetation covered the trash. Now, with the trees bare and vegetation gone, the white trash bags were visible from the road.

Inside was old insulation and bits of construction debris, likely cast offs from a renovation, McLaughlin guessed. However, he found nothing to link it to anyone. The homeowner will be responsible to cleaning up the mess someone else dumped, essentially on their front lawn.

In cases where code enforcement finds a perpetrator, the guilty party has to clean up his mess. However, with no perpetrator, when the trash is dumped on a county, city or state road or right-of-way, the code enforcement officers call the appropriate department to come clean it up. If it’s on someone’s personal property, however, and the violator can’t be found, it falls on the property owner.

Code enforcement will usually alert the correctional institute in the county or community service in LaGrange to pick up trash on city or county property.

“We can get the inmates out there to pick up trash, but that’s not really their job. It’s your job as a responsible citizen to keep your community clean,” McLaughlin said.

Another common call McLaughlin receives is dumping vegetation. Someone logging or otherwise cutting may find an isolated spot to leave wood, which should be taken to the inert landfill.

Residents who report descriptions of any trucks in their area that carry construction or vegetation items to an isolated area and then leave with an empty load could help lead to catching dumpers. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to help curb the problem, other than trying to deter illegal dumpers by issuing fines.

Litter presents a different problem. Usually small pieces of food-related trash, there is nothing to help code enforcement officers track down a person for throwing something like a single candy bar wrapper out of their window.

“Litter is scattered everywhere, and we just can’t really work on that, per say, in the same way that I work on the dumping,” McLaughlin said. “People will call about, ‘well, somebody rode by house and threw out a bag or bottle.’ Well, not much I can do about it.”

Unless someone catches a tag number, or vehicle description, while actually witnessing the incident, there’s not much recourse.

Ivey said litter can be what is thrown out of a car, or trash around someone’s home and in their yard. LaGrange code enforcement deals with that problem every day, he said, and in cases of littered yards, works with the residents – giving them an opportunity clean their yard before issuing a citation.

Pace said most people voluntarily comply when approached by code enforcement.

Ivey said he doesn’t feel littering in the city of LaGrange is any worse than in other communities of the same size. Byrd said the city’s code enforcement officers take a proactive approach of checking areas and educating people, helping keep the problem in check.

Officers also noted that is hard to prove sometimes if small pieces of trash were intentionally discarded or might have been caught by the wind and flown out of an open window or open truck bed. Leaving prosecution of a suspected litterer ambiguous.

Regardless how ends up there, McLaughlin said litter is everywhere, although some streets tend to be worse than others. He noted that if people followed basic rules, there wouldn’t be a need to enforce cleaning up trash.

“You are supposed to put it in a garbage collection location,” he said. “You can have someone come out and pick it up from in front of your house once a week, or take it to the convenience centers. But if it ends up in the woods out here — and don’t tell me seven bags of garbage blew out of the back of your truck down a 20-foot embankment. I’ve had people tell me that before. … Well, you can explain that to the judge.”

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