Monday, October 31, 2011

Fresno Bee: Fresno County fights increased illegal dumping

Fresno Co. supes consider mandatory trash service

Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011 | 10:38 PM

Pota Yang is resigned to the fact that her rural neighborhood west of Fresno has become a literal dumping ground.

Across the street from her home on Valentine Avenue, couches, televisions and mattresses are piled on an abandoned lot. Just 100 feet down the road, ripped bags of household waste spew old clothes, diapers, plastic bottles and a wooden tennis racket.

"We'll just be sitting in the living room, watching TV and we'll see lights," Yang explained. "Then my dad will look outside and see they're dumping trash again."

While illegal dumping has been a longtime problem in unincorporated Fresno County, in many communities it's on the rise. Some blame the economy, noting that fewer are paying for trash collection. Others blame cuts on law enforcement.

Whatever the case, Fresno County supervisors have begun considering a plan to reduce chronic dumping: require county households to sign up for trash service. That way, the thinking goes, there won't be a need to dump.

A survey released this month by the county suggests that just 45% of homes and businesses in the unincorporated areas have regular garbage collection. In most cities and in many other counties, the service is mandatory. It remains optional, though, in unincorporated Fresno County.

"We're now seeing the effects of having less than 50% pick-up. We're seeing stuff thrown in alleyways, on roads and in rural areas," said Supervisor Henry Perea, who supports mandatory garbage service. "It's become a health and safety issue."

He added, "There are some things that separate us from Third World countries and trash collection is one of them."

Fewer are paying

Insiders in the trash business agree the economy has helped bring the county's dumping situation to a head.

"When people lose a job, that's one of the bills they cut," said John Thompson, the county public works manager, who oversees the 12 companies doing garbage collection in Fresno County. "There are just people who can no longer afford trash service."

Collection bills typically run $30 to $40 per household each month, according to the county. In some areas and on bigger properties, the bill can run much higher -- $100 a month or more.

Kerman-based Mid Valley Disposal, which provides trash pick-up from Yang's neighborhood outside Fresno all the way to Coalinga, has seen a roughly 10% drop-off in customers over the past 18 months.

Company officials say the decline is a direct result of the economy and say that doesn't bode well for the dumping problem.

"There are people who opt out of service and take their trash to the landfill or use the transfer station. But a larger percentage doesn't ... It's easier to throw it alongside the road when no one is looking or burn it," said Joseph Kalpakoff, general manager of Mid Valley Disposal.

County public works crews, which are responsible for clearing roadside trash, have picked up more over the past three years than usual, officials said. They don't have the numbers, though, to detail the increase.
Kalpakoff said in his service area, the spike in dumping is clear.

And it's also clear, he added, that the increase is driven by residential trash that might otherwise have gone into a curbside bin.

"We're still seeing the couch or tire alongside the road," Kalpakoff said. "But the trend now is household garbage being dumped. It's perishable waste, and it's all over the Valley floor."

Some of the county's waste companies haven't seen demand for collection fall like it has on the west side.

Industrial Waste and Salvage, which serves a small pocket south of Fresno, has experienced a less than 1% drop in business. Sunset Waste Management, which serves several communities east of Highway 99, has seen business remain flat, though many customers have switched to smaller and less-costly bins, company officials said.
The hauling companies agree, though, that mandatory trash collection would go a long way to cleaning up the county.
"If you only have half of the people participating in the program, where is the other half of that garbage going?" said John Mohoff, general manager of Sunset Waste Systems. "It stands to reason that the amount of illegal dumping would decline."

Pros, cons of change

Of course, companies such as Sunset would gain from the increased business that mandatory collection would bring. But customers also would benefit, they said, as the service costs are spread among more people and everybody pays a lower rate.

Sunset customers near the cities of Sanger, Fowler and Kingsburg would see an average 6% to 8% decrease in their monthly bill, according to Mohoff.

Mohoff and others have suggested the county would save money, too, because it wouldn't have to go out and clear as much dumped trash.

The county, however, would incur an additional cost administering and enforcing the new pick-up requirement. That cost could be deferred, should the Board of Supervisors choose, through contract fees that waste companies pay to do business in the county.

Mandatory trash pick-up is not universally supported. For many of the estimated 33,000 property owners who don't have garbage service, the new bill would come as an unwelcome surprise.

"Most of the people in our area are responsible. We recycle. We compost," said Prather resident Bonnie Hancock, who doesn't think she should have to pay for service because others are dumping.

County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian sympathizes and said she will fight against forcing people to pay for trash collection.

"In this economy, is that what we want to do: make it harder for people to make ends meet?" she said.
Many homes, Poochigian added, are empty or used only by vacationers and don't need regular pick-up.
Public works officials have begun meeting with people in the waste industry and, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, plan to come up with recommendations for improving trash collection. These recommendations will be forwarded to the board for consideration.

Any requirement for mandatory pick-up will come with an opt-out provision, public works officials said. This would allow property owners who provide evidence of legal disposal, such as a landfill receipt, to forego service.

Also, a new ordinance could make trash service mandatory in some places, such as the more urban areas, and keep it optional in other places, officials noted.

Yang said she is tired of seeing dumping near her home but doesn't know what to do about it. Her family has trash service, and she thinks mandatory trash pick-up is a good idea: "It doesn't hurt to pay a little to keep your neighborhood clean."

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