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Thousands of illegal dumping sites plague West Virginia

Your tax dollars are helping clean up trash dumped by someone illegally.They dump near roads. They dump in parks. They dump near streams.West Virginia contains as many as 15,000 illegal dumping sites, consuming resources of local governments and the state Department of Environmental Protection.Greg Rote, program manager for the DEP's Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan (REAP), said the DEP cleans up to 1,100 illegal dumpsites across West Virginia each year."The biggest reason is they don't want to pay to get rid of it," he said.In Charleston, illegally dumped trash is causing drainage issues and keeping the public works department busy.Public Works Director Gary Taylor said the trash is usually confined to more isolated areas of town with few homes nearby, like along Garrison Avenue and Amity Drive. When it rains, the trash dumped down hillsides is swept into drains and streams."I think it's coming from outside the city," he said. "People in the city know if (their trash) is on the curb, we're going to pick it up."Taylor said that the largest pieces of refuse the department picks up are televisions and tires, calling them, "our two biggest nightmares."That's despite the fact that ways to properly dispose of those items exist in Kanawha County, unlike other parts of the state. Electronics recycling, including televisions and computers, is available as a free service at West Virginia Recycling's Slack Street facility. The county collects tires twice each year - once in the spring and again in the fall.The public works department is running into other hazards, too. Just last week, a worker accidentally mowed over hidden meth lab refuse along Edgewood Drive and had to be examined at a hospital as a precaution.The worker was fine, but the incident illustrated a growing danger buried in the trash."We get more (meth refuse) whenever law enforcement steps up their activities," Rote said.State law mandates homes and businesses subscribe to trash service or be able to provide proof they disposed of their garbage at an approved waste facility.
Dumping is not confined to the city, of course, and illegal dumping sites have been found across Kanawha County. Major dumping locations in the past year have been reported along Smith Creek Road between South Charleston and Tornado and along Ventroux Road in St. Albans.Just in 2013, the DEP has cleaned up 12 open dumps in Kanawha County and six tire piles."It gets frustrating to clean up the same site over and over," Rote said.Fortunately, the amount of dumped waste seems to be on the decline, Rote said. Just over a decade ago, he said the DEP would find large dumpsites, citing one site that contained almost 30 tons of trash. Now, most sites average one to two tons."I really think it's an education thing," he said.In addition to education, the state Legislature increased penalties for littering in 2010.
Dumping trash illegally is punishable by a fine of $100 to $1,000 or eight to 16 hours of community service. Subsequent citations double the fine.Larger amounts of trash increase the fine even more. If the refuse is 100 to 500 pounds or 27 to 216 cubic feet, the fine jumps to a $1,000 minimum and $2,000 maximum.Amounts of trash larger than 500 pounds or 216 cubic feet or any amount of trash collected for commercial purposes is subject to a fine between $2,500 and $25,000 and up to one year in jail. The violator could also be convicted of "creating or contributing to an open dump," which carries even higher penalties.Any law enforcement officer in West Virginia can issue citations for violating the state's litter law. Cities and counties also work with the DEP to step up enforcement in problem areas, including the use of motion-activated cameras to catch violators in the act."We do catch a few on camera," Rote said.Kanawha County also employs a part-time litter control officer who can issue citations, and Deputy Planning Director Colt Sandoro estimated the officer writes 24 to 30 citations annually. When a culprit can't be found, county workers or work-release inmates with the sheriff's department clean up the mess.To report illegal dumping, call local law enforcement or contact the DEP at 1-800-322-5530. Complaints can also be filed at writer Matt Murphy at or 304-348-4817. 
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