01/22/07 — Resident could get stuck with bill to clean up trash on his property

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Resident could get stuck with bill to clean up trash on his property

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 22, 2007 1:45 PM

The bags continued to stack up on both sides of Camp Trailee Road.

Bottles, food and pounds of other discarded items were just a few feet away from Dwayne Walraft's home.He never knew the trash was there -- until the Wayne County Sheriff's Office Waste Enforcement Division ordered him to clean it up.

Walraft says the landscaping in his back yard blocks his view of the street. He never even travels down Camp Trailee Road, since its only destination is a nearby hog farm.

So, he said he would have stayed oblivious to the increasing amount of trash dumped by other residents. That is, until he was threatened with a citation for the eyesore.

"My hands are tied. They've put it in my hands to clean up. I can't even see the road from my back yard, and I didn't have a reason to go there until now," Walraft said.

Officers with the Waste Enforcement Division, which has been operating since 1988, see areas just like Camp Trailee Road every day when making rounds across the county.

Whether it's on Durham Lake Road a few miles from the county's landfill or somewhere else, Capt. Joe Allen said people will take travel in the middle of the night "where they think no one sees" and dump their trash.

If no one does see the crime occur, it can be difficult for waste enforcement officers to place the blame. When officers arrive at a scene, Allen said they look for any identifying information in the trash.

That's what a deputy did when he arrived at Camp Trailee Road near Walraft's house. After looking through one bag of trash and not finding any identifying information, Walraft said the deputy warned him that he might be cited for the trash on his property.

Although Camp Trailee Road is a public right-of-way, it is considered a secondary easement, which means Walraft's property line extends to the middle of the road. Because of that law, Walraft is considered liable for what occurs on that property -- even if he wasn't a contributor to the trash problem or could even see any of the infractions occur.

That law also limits who can clean up the trash near Walraft's home. Although inmates can be used to pick up trash near a highway, Allen said Camp Trailee Road's rights-of-way are considered private property. Liability issues with the state prevent inmates from working on that property.

If officers are fortunate enough to find any identifying information in dumped trash, Allen said they can contact that person and tell them to clean up the mess. But just a name in a trash bag is not enough for officers to issue a citation, he added.

"Who's to say that they were the one that dumped that bag? It's hard because you don't see them do it. A judge would just dismiss it because he wouldn't have a witness who saw it," Allen said.

That is why Walraft said he believes the sheriff's office should take more steps in trying to prevent trash dumping across Wayne.

"Why don't they have cameras in the places where people dump the most trash? They know where the problem areas are," Walraft said.

Anyone caught by the cameras for illegal dumping could face financially stiffer penalties, Walraft suggested. Then the fines would easily help pay for the cost of the cameras.

Although it's hard to catch someone in the act, Allen said Wayne County residents should keep their eyes open on their property and their neighbor's property. Any trash that ends up on a person's yard could result in a fine that comes out of their pocket.

"If there's no name that we can find in the trash, it makes you responsible," Allen said.

And responsibility, he added, is something each resident should take to keep Wayne clean.

"If people keep throwing away their trash on the streets, it's going to keep building up until someone picks it up," Allen said.

"If you already have trash in the back of your car or truck, just drive down the road to the landfill," Walraft said.

If a resident sees someone dumping trash or littering, he or she should write down any identifying information and report the crime to the waste enforcement division by calling 705-6542. If the trash dumping occurs after 5 p.m., call the county's communications office at 731-1493.