The problem, unfortunately, is not confined to that one length of road. Throughout the rural areas of Karnes County are several locations where individuals are dumping seemingly whatever they want. It’s not only sullying the landscape, it’s costing the county and its taxpayers money as well.
“It’s nothing to pick up two truckloads of trash in a day,” county road and bridge administrator Jeff Wiatrek said. “We pick up trailer loads of old couches, beds. We’re shorthanded here as it is. It’s costing us time and the county money to get rid of this stuff.”
Illegal dumping is not a minor offense. It can be charged from a Class C misdemeanor up to a third-degree felony, depending on the details and the items dumped. As a felony, the penalty for illegal dumping can be up to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Karnes County sheriff David Jalufka said that while the law is difficult to enforce, his office will pursue prosecution if it has cause.
“It’s tough, and the best way to catch someone is in the act, but that’s not the only way,” Jalufka said. “If we find trash with someone’s name on it we’ll go after them. It’s definitely a problem.”
The problem can snowball quickly depending on the circumstances. Outside the city limits near Escondido Creek is a bridge where all manner of trash has been dumped into the Creek, some of which can potentially have severe environmental consequences.
A refrigerator has been dumped in that creek, with the potential to release several different chemicals into the waterway. Also dumped over the bridge were the bodies of several dead animals, some as large as what appeared to be a goat.
Also along the roadway was a discarded bed frame that appeared to have been set on fire and left to burn near the dry grass on the roadside.
“We drive through sometimes and see garbage bags full of stuff,” Wiatrek said. “If we find a name on anything we’ll take it to the JP.”
The county has been doing its part to help stop the problem before it starts by hosting hazardous waste disposal events. Pct. 1 County Commissioner Carl Hummel has spearheaded these efforts, the latest event taking place two months ago and collecting what he referred to as “a mountain of tires.”
Hummel said the county will likely do another similar event after the holidays pass. Until then, the hope is that people become aware of the impact that illegal dumping has on the county and the environment.
“The problem we’re facing now is that you ask people for $3 or $4 per tire and they might say, ‘that’s too much,’ and go dump them somewhere in the county,” Hummel said. “I’ve seen it happen. There’s a lot of labor involved in this without even considering the dollar figure cost to the county. It’s so hard to control because you’d basically have to put cameras along our county roads. I’ve been looking at that possibility. It’s just a big problem that we need people to help us with.”