Originally created 09/18/00

Officials work to combat dumping



In the wooded areas in the county, where traffic is light and there are few prying eyes to see, some construction companies dump their building materials - tons at a time.

Even in residential areas, the back of neighborhoods can be filled with appliances, tires and household trash, thrown surreptitiously into corners of roads and on vacant lots.

The problem of illegal dumping gets worse every time landfill tipping fees increase, said Shawn Hargis, Augusta-Richmond County's sole environmental code enforcement officer.

Ms. Hargis works on cases that range from residents burning trash in their yards to contractors disposing of waste outside of designated landfills.

Illegal commercial dumping, which carries a felony charge, is often hard to prosecute because it's impossible to determine who the violators are in many cases.

Marshals could comb through household trash to find clues about the offender, but tires are the most difficult to trace. There are no identification marks waiting for officials when they find an illegally dumped pile.

Surveillance tactics have made a dent controlling the problem, Ms. Hargis said.

The creation of her position on the local level has also. Before the county received a state grant two years ago, there were only four environmental inspectors patrolling the entire state.

Now, Ms. Hargis works with the local marshal's office, the game warden and the state's Environmental Protection Division.

"We're catching up to make everyone environmentally aware," she said. "With all the agencies working together, people aren't getting away with as much."

Many violations stemmed from people being unaware of the environmental codes, Ms. Hargis said. Many times people did not know it is illegal to burn trash or throw away motor oil.

Others did not realize that many landfills will now accept scrap metal, oil and tires, she said.

Those who choose to throw away waste and materials on undesignated land, Ms. Hargis said, are acting with blatant disregard of the law and of the burden on property owners, who are ultimately responsible for cleaning up trash on their land.

"We make every attempt to catch the violator," she said. "We investigate it to the fullest extent because we don't want to put everything on the property owner."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.