Illegal dumping offenders will be prosecuted

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Environmental Officer George Johnson, of Jonesboro, has made several illegal dumping site discoveries in eastern Craighead County this month and is determined to penalize offenders.

"Discovery was so productive on the western side of the county, that we wanted to see what we could find in the Eastern District," Johnson said. "It seems people do not want to pay the tipping fees to clean up their property and have resorted to dumping debris on farmers and public properties.

Environmental Officer George Johnson goes through trash found north of Monette. (Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)

"We have already found several sites in the Eastern District and have pressed charges. One case will be brought before Judge Keith Blackman on June 18, in Lake City, by prosecutor Tommy Fowler. There are a lot of sites out there we haven't found yet, but we are seriously looking."

"Juvenile public service workers go out every Saturday and pick up litter along our state highways," Johnson said. "We go to different highways each week, and do this year round, if it is not raining or snowing. The juvenile workers go to school Monday through Friday and work off their court ordered obligation to do public service on Saturday."

As Johnson looked through the rubble thrown on the banks of the Cockle Burr Ditch, north of Highway 18, he quickly discovered discarded mail belonging to an area resident.

"Most people don't realize if you own anything in the bag, then all the contents inside belong to you," Johnson said. "Even if you hire someone to carry off your trash you are still responsible for it. All haulers must to be licensed through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to be legal carriers. People should ask for identification when hiring someone to work for them, as they will end up being responsible if it is dumped illegally. ADEQ was formed to protect the air, water and land from the threat of pollution."

Farmers have become quite upset with illegal dumping as it compromises their farmable space and access.

As Johnson was leaving an illegal dumpsite last week he was approached by a farmer who was working the ground. The farmer and his workers blocked the exits on what they thought were more illegal haulers. When Johnson explained who he was and why he was there, the farmer appeared to be relieved and was quick to share other sites he had found on his property and on neighboring properties.

"No one wants all that trash spread all over their fields," Johnson said. "I can see why the farmers would get angry. They are quick to tip us off to other sites nearby.

"Arkansas has some of the toughest environmental laws in the U.S. The problem has been they have not been enforced. We are changing this now and going all the way to court with what we find. We want to make people conscious about what they are doing with their trash.

"Our goal is not to take them to court, but rather to bring them into compliance. It is bad for the environment. Roofers throw away shingles and other polluting things in ravines. Business people who handle tires have hired kids to dispose of the tires for 50 cents a tire, after changing customers a large fee for legal disposal. Then the kids go out and dump the tires at the first site they find."

"We had to start somewhere with this, and it is getting better all the time," Johnson said. "Every time someone dumps on levees, by river ways, bridges, they leave something behind that will help us identify them. We have learned to be quite accomplished identity investigators."

Illegal dumping comes with a misdemeanor charge of one-year imprisonment or a fine of $25,000 or both.

"We don't have to have a search warrant, as we are authorized to enter property," Johnson said. "It is a fine to them if they don't allow us on the premises. I am a certified law enforcement officer through the Arkansas Department of Ecology and Pollution Commission."

ADEQ's regulatory programs set pollution limits, determine compliance, and enforce environmental laws and regulations. The regulatory divisions include Air, Water, Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste, Regulated Storage Tanks and Mining.

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