Rep. Rich Collins hopes to create a task force to address the problem.
Stiener Road in Georgetown, east of Park Avenue and off Route 9, is lined with dense forest and doesn’t have a single home or business on it, making it an easy target for illegal dumping.
A quick drive down the curvy back road during daylight hours reveals fast food bags and containers, plastic trash bags with the contents spilling out, busted furniture, broken electronics, beer bottles and soda cans. A few steps off the road in any direction are mounds and mounds of tires, lazily discarded construction materials and even more trash.
In recent years, the problem of illegal dumping has become increasingly visible on both Stiener Road and in Sussex County as a whole, making it harder for citizens and government alike to ignore.
“I drive down that road with my 6-year-old daughter,” said 34-year-old Renee Short, of Georgetown. “It bothers her that people throw trash on the side of the road instead of putting it where it belongs. It’s disrespectful and lazy.”
The law on litter
In early April, officers from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Environmental Crimes unit arrested two men in southern Sussex County on an array of trash dumping violations that happened to be occurring at the same site. The situation was an egregious one, and DNREC set up cameras to make the bust.
Danny Averitt, a 44-year-old Frankford man, and 55-year-old Perry Townsend, of Dagsboro, were both collecting trash and discarding it on a vacant Frankford property. Averitt is awaiting a court date, while Townsend pleaded guilty to two counts of discharge of solid waste and one count of transportation, collection and storage of solid waste without a permit. He was fined $1,900, ordered to perform community service in the form of trash cleanup and placed on probation.
According to the Delaware Code’s Litter Control Law, anyone found guilty of littering or illegal dumping can receive a minimum fine of $50 and up to eight hours of community service for their first offense. However, if the discretion occurs on or along a Delaware byway, an additional mandatory penalty of $500 applies. A byway is defined as any road adjacent to an area of particular scenic, historic or cultural interest.
No easy solution
Alastair Probert, the Sussex County district engineer for DelDOT, is responsible for overseeing road clean-up crews.
“We’re called by DNREC, the county, politicians at least monthly,” he said. “We have guys that come in specifically to pick up trash on roads we know are habitual problems or that we get calls about.”
Probert also oversees another significant source of roadside cleanup in Sussex: the Adopt-A-Highway program. In 2016, 309 groups participated in the program in Sussex County and collected 2,145 bags of trash.
But leaders like State Rep. Rich Collins, R-District 41 in the Millsboro area, say Delaware can do better. He believes the reason there’s been so little progress in curbing illegal dumping over the years is the difficulty associated with catching offenders.
“I’ve had many discussions with authorities, and they all say the same thing: you virtually never witness someone dumping,” he said.
DNREC does sometimes equip roads identified as dumping hotspots with cameras to catch people in the act, but the space the cameras cover often pales in comparison to the total length of the road. The state’s financial problems bar purchasing the number of cameras it would take to reign in illegal dumping, not to mention the logistics.
“So I think the solution is better cleanup,” Collins said. “Right now, we only clean up on a complaint basis, so if no one sees it or reports it, it may be years before anyone cleans it up.”
Collins has introduced a concurrent resolution in the General Assembly that would create the Delaware Anti-Dumping and Anti-Littering Solutions Task Force. The task force would develop strategies to curtail littering and illegal dumping, as well as for implementation and financing, and report to the General Assembly by April 1, 2018.
“When you get a lot of dumping and heavy trash, it drags the whole area down,” he said. “Other people join in and it makes things worse. It drags down the whole society.”
While Collins focuses on cleanup, Sussex County is focusing on catching illegal dumping offenders. Anyone who comes forward with information that leads to an arrest, which can be done anonymously through Crime Stoppers, can be rewarded up to $200.
“Law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once,” said Sussex County Constable Mike Costello. “So we need the public’s help to be our eyes and ears to hold violators accountable.”
Collins cautioned, however, that tipsters sometimes aren’t very effective.
“From what I understand, they’re having a hard time getting actionable tips where they can actually arrest someone,” he said.
Without photographic or video evidence, illegal dumping cases are hard to prove. Sometimes the case comes down to one person’s word against another; in other cases, even a discarded document containing a name and address can’t prove guilt. However, in any case, DNREC will investigate. You can report illegal dumping to them via the DNREC Natural Resources Police Hotline at 1-800-662-8802.
Properly disposing of trash is simple. The following Delaware Solid Waste Authority locations accept trash from the public, usually at a cost of $85 a ton and prorated for anything less than that.Jones Crossroads Landfill, 28560 Landfill Lane, Georgetown. Milford Transfer Station, 1170 South DuPont Boulevard, Milford. Route 5 Transfer Station, 29997 John P. Healy Drive, Harbeson.
There are also programs available to assist the public in properly disposing of trash, like DNREC’s free Scrap Tire Drop-Off Days, the next of which is scheduled for Saturday, May 20 in Harrington at the state fairgrounds from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit dnrec.delaware.gov for more information.
To submit tips on illegal dumping, visit tipsubmit.com or call 1-800-TIP-3333. If you or your group is interested in participating in the Adopt-A-Highway program, visit deldot.gov.