San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Craig W. Anderson

San Joaquin County's rural roads are again being used as trash dumps by people who are either confused about where it's legal to dump trash or they simply don't care. In cases where the trash is traced back to a specific person, some claim they paid a stranger to dump their garbage and they aren't responsible.

"A lot of folks apparently don't know about the options available for them to take care of their garbage and trash," said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. "We're helping get the word out that dumping on country roads and property is not only illegal but also environmentally bad and adds expenses to growers who have to clean up the mess."

Dumping, costs increased

"There has been a significant increase in the year-over-year frequency of dumping and an increase in costs for farmers, landowners, the Sheriff's Office and the county's Public Works Department," said Jim Stone, Public Works deputy director. "The District Attorney is serious about this and prosecuted a couple of cases recently. We hope there will be more successful prosecutions for dumping."

Illegal dumping is increasing, according to Stone. "Reports of illegal dumping have tripled since 2014-15 and the costs to road maintenance have nearly doubled in that same time frame."

In 2014-15, road maintenance received 511 calls of illegal dumping, which cost the county $694,000 to clean up. In 2015-16 the county received 842 calls, a 65 percent increase over the previous year at a cost of $706,000, a 1.7 percent increase. In 2016-2017, the county receiving 1,185 reports, an increase of 41 percent and a cost increase of 20 percent to $847,000.

The 2017-18 fiscal year is only half way completed but it is projected that by the end of the year the county will have received 1,685 reports, a 42 percent increase, with a cost to San Joaquin County of more than $1.2 million.

These are costs to the county for handling the trash left on the public right of way where all too often the trash, garbage and worse dumped on private land becomes the responsibility of the landowner.

Whodunit

Sheriff Steve Moore photographed a complete camper shell dumped on Main Street near downtown Stockton. "Anything and everything is dumped throughout the county," he said. "And when we find information in the material we can track it back to its source, the people will tell the officer they don't know how the material got there because they hired some guy to take their garbage to the dump and after that, they're oblivious."

Cyclical, six months to go

Moore said illegal material dumping is somewhat cyclical and after things had tapered off somewhat last year, dumping is on the upswing during this summer season.

"With about six months to go before the New Year, the county is more than halfway to last year's total of illegal dumping, both in incidents and costs," he said.

"Most people think that garbage collection isn't very exciting but at Public Works we like to think of ourselves as material management specialists as well as stewards of the county," Stone said. "This is the age of being environmentally friendly with more materials being kept out of the landfill through reuse and recycling programs."

Some of those materials are being left by the side of the road instead of being hauled off to a county landfill.

Wild variety of items

"We've found nearly everything on county and city roads and streets," Stone said, a list that includes furniture – that could be donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or other charitable organizations instead of being left rot on the roadside; appliances, including refrigerators, air conditioners, freezers, water coolers, washers, dryers, ovens, water heaters, stoves, dishwashers and trash compactors.

Electronics are a big roadside item consisting of TVs, computers, printers, radios, VCRs and DVD players. Boats seem to have become a popular "let's dump the family boat on somebody's property" item which is idiotic when the Sheriff's Office offers a free Vessel Turn-in Program. Of course, when hazardous materials such as fluorescent bulbs, paint, pesticides, household cleaners, antifreeze, motor oil and batteries are dumped, clean-up costs escalate as environmental threats likewise increase.

All of this could be disposed of properly and cheaply at assorted county facilities and through a variety of county programs.

"This is an ongoing challenge to the agricultural community," said Blodgett. "We all need to be on the alert. If you see suspicious activities or suspicious vehicles, call the Sheriff's Office. Calls help them track illegal activities."

A month of thievery

Along with illegal dumping there are the general illegal acts such as theft and other crimes which the county's Rural Crime Task Force takes on. A monthly crime report from June 11 through July 10 covers a lot of illegal ground: Copper wire stolen ($700 value); a GPS laser leveler and other items burglarized ($45,000); batteries stolen ($6,200); a Kubota RTV stolen ($12,000); John Deere Gator UTV ($6,000); trespassing, sprinkler system broken ($850); aluminum irrigation pipes stolen ($6,750); truck, tank, chemicals, vehicle damage ($15,230). Suspects for some of these crimes have been identified and one was caught and booked in Elk Grove and the pickup he stole valued at $12,000 was returned to the owner.

"Be alert for unusual activity or crimes for yourself and your neighbor," Sheriff Moore said. "And report them. The rural ag community works best when working together."