Living in rural Bee County has its perks: plenty of sunshine, lots of fresh air, and a plethora of deer, birds and squirrels in the back yard.
It also has its drawbacks.
Some folks who live in rural Bee County find themselves living next door to an illegal, unsightly landfill.
“They spring up overnight. One day the property is covered with grass and the next day there are piles of tires, old appliances or mounds of construction debris dumped at the property next door,” said Dennis DeWitt, director of the Bee County health department. “Bee County has no permitted landfills, yet some landowners are doing just that, operating a landfill — illegally.”
Battling such illegal activity is an ongoing task for DeWitt and the people who work for his department.
“We have a file case full of complaints,” he said. “We open cases if not weekly, then perhaps monthly.”
He said the property owners, as well as the people who are doing the dumping and the people who own the materials being dumped, can be fined and even imprisoned for such activity.
“It’s not only the person doing the dumping that gets in trouble — not only the person driving the dump truck or who owns the dump trucks or pickup trucks — but the people who contracted to have the tires, appliances or construction materials hauled away, and the people who own the property in Bee County where the tires, appliances and construction materials end up.”
Such illegal activity is a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in a state jail and $10,000 fine if the shingles, roofing materials, or old refrigerators exceed more than $1,000 pounds or have a volume of 200 cubic feet or more. It also becomes a state jail felony if someone is disposing of the materials for commercial purposes.
“It’s illegal if someone is making money off the venture,” DeWitt explained. “If they benefit from it, from hauling the materials away and disposing of it, then they are criminally liable.”
If the materials are contained in a sealed drum or closed barrel, then the activity is also illegal, he added.
Although Bee County does not have a permitted landfill — the nearest one is in Robstown — it does have two transfer stations where residents can take items for disposal.
DeWitt surmises that many of the landfills crop up because, well, people don’t want to pay the fees to dispose of the materials at the transfer stations.
“But when you think about it, it’s really not fair to the poor people who live next door who wake up in the morning to the sound of dump trucks dropping off construction materials or who wake up to find dozens of old appliances on the neighbors’ property,” DeWitt said.
He said some property owners are unaware that the disposal company they contracted with are dumping construction materials illegally.
“A lot of times someone will contract with a company to tear down a building or haul off old appliances or roofing materials and they just assume the materials will be disposed of properly,” DeWitt said. “They don’t know the disposal company is dumping the stuff illegally elsewhere in the county.”
However, ignorance is no excuse and the original owner of the materials is still criminally liable for the disposal of the materials, DeWitt said.
One way a property owner can absolve himself of complicity is to have the contractor sign an affidavit of proper disposal of solid waste materials.
The forms can be picked up at DeWitt’s office at 210 E. Corpus Christi St., Room 700.
“If they have the contractor sign the affidavit, which promises the materials will be disposed properly, then they will not be fined if the contractor dumps the materials illegally someplace else in Bee County,” Dewitt said. “We’ve taken people to court over this (illegal dumping) but fines and court action are the last resort. We just want it to stop. We want it cleaned up. We don’t want to take people to court if we don’t have to. We’re willing to work with them.”
DeWitt said he has recently investigated an illegal dumping site that contained hundreds of tires, another one contained the remains of what used to be a brick building, and yet another one contained dozens of used appliances.
“When you get right down to it, it’s a health issue,” Dewitt said. “Illegal dumping creates an unhealthy environment. It breeds rats and rodents. It breeds mosquitoes. Some of the stuff may even be toxic.”
Area law enforcement agencies, civic organizations and government leaders are scheduled to meet on Thursday, Feb. 19, to learn how to combat illegal dumping. The annual trash enforcement seminar will be held at the Beeville Community Center.
Frank Montez, supervisor of the county’s road and bridge department, said his crews spend several hours each week picking up used tires abandoned by the roadway.
“People are always throwing their tires out on the side of the road,” he said. “They can take it to our (recycling) center but they don’t want to pay the fee so they just throw them out next to the road.”
He said his crews are regularly sent to the same areas of the county each week to pick up abandoned items and bags of trash.
“Most of the illegal dumping occurs in the same areas, places where they cannot be seen dumping,” he explained. “We’ve considered putting up cameras to catch the people doing the dumping.”