WINFIELD, WV (WOWK)—West Virginia is known for its beautiful scenery and the many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. But in some rural areas, people are using the woods as their personal dumping grounds.
Tommy Hoffer moved to Winfield, WV from Pennsylvania five years ago. Since then, he’s been working on cleaning up a piece of property along the Kanawha River and renovating the house that sits there. He loves the view and the river itself.
“I keep trash bags on the boat when we are out over the summer and my girlfriend has the gloves and the litter grabber,” Hoffer said. “So wherever we go we pick up other people’s trash and the environmental trash.”
But just a few miles away there are two spots along the side of the road where people do not take the same pride in the way things look.
“I guess maybe it is because there is a cost involved and people don’t want to do it, so they just dump it off to the side of a side road you know,” Hoffer said.
People are often not just throwing out one or two pieces of trash, they are throwing out entire bags full of garbage.
13 News spent an afternoon with Chris Cartwright. He is a Pollution Prevention Open Dump Project Manager for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
“This is a typical situation, for my area at least. This is a location that is remote enough for people to feel safe when they go to do things like this, but it is also close enough to a main road where they can get here easily,” Cartwright explained.
The location was in Putnam County near Scary Creek, not far from the Kanawha County line.
“What you see here in this small dump is stuff that we deal with on a regular basis,” Cartwright said. “You’ve got tires, electronic devices, television sets, there’s a little bit of household garbage here. There’s not a lot of stuff here but when you have 15 sites like this on the same road then you start to look at a lot of volume and you are in an area that we need to come in and do some work.”
Cartwright said that even though there have been some improvements over the years, tires remain a major problem. Items that are traditionally not allowed to go out with the regular trash often end up in roadside dumps.
“There is a fire extinguisher here in this dump, and we come across fire extinguishers, propane tanks, settling tanks anything that is a sealed tank that’s got contents under pressure the garbage folks won’t take it.”
There are also several televisions, but not as many as there used to be.
At one point West Virginia tried requiring customers to recycle electronics like televisions. That resulted in several problems including more electronics ending up in illegal dumps.
“They passed a bill in the legislature that banned televisions and other electronic devices from landfills, and you know for a while we really had a problem with them, they were dumped everywhere, that has been repealed and the ban is off, and they can go to a landfill now.”
While volunteers help with some of the smaller clean-up efforts, big jobs often require contractors with heavy equipment.
When it comes to holding people accountable for illegal dumping Cartwright said it is difficult since most of the illegal activity happens in rural areas out of sight. Even though open dumping and litter laws can be enforced by any certified law enforcement officer including state, county, municipal, and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, there has to be proof.
“It is just one of those things that unless you catch someone in the act or have someone ready to go to court stand in front of a judge and say ‘yea, I saw him do this’ you know it is hard to get convictions. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that you are just going to have to try to do what you can to prevent it, whether it is blocking access to sites or have people that live in the area that are vigilant and pay attention to what is going on,” Cartwright said. He said surveillance cameras usually don’t capture good enough evidence.
“Cameras are wonderful, but you are limited. Unless you are going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on top technology. Then you’d be taking a camera that is worth thousands and thousands of dollars and putting it out here on a location where three days from now it may not be there anymore,” Cartwright said.
Even when they find someone’s mail in a bag of trash Cartwright said. violators will come to court and argue that they can’t afford to pay their trash bills. Another obstacle is that in many areas illegal dumping is something that has been going on for generations.
“You are going to have to get into the schools and teach these kids that this is not the right thing to do. You’ve got families that for generations this is how they’ve handled their waste. You know if there is too much stuff piled up behind the outbuilding well, we are going to load it onto ‘Uncle Joe’s’ truck and take it out and get rid of it. It is just one of those things that culturally it has been accepted,” Cartwright said.
It is a point of view that Cartwright said he’s observed slowly starting to shift after close to twenty years in this line of work. These days he said there are smaller dumps and fewer tons of waste. There are also more people like Tommy Hoffer who are committed to helping keep their community cleaner in big ways and small ways.
“Like throwing cigarettes out the window and stuff like that, don’t do that,” Hoffer said. “Cigarette packs, trash, when you stop at the gas station just toss it in a receptacle at the gas station.”
If you know about an illegal dump in your community, you can report it online through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
For more information on free but responsible ways to dispose of your trash click here and here.
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