Illegal dumping crackdown eyed

The bag from McDonalds that flew out of the back of the truck could cost $5,000.

That was one of the ideas that came out of the second illegal dumping forum Tuesday in Coupeville. The Environmental Health Action Team sponsored the forum to develop a plan to combat illegal dumping.

Community leaders and members of the team brainstormed ideas on how to address three areas of concern in combating illegal dumping, a problem that in the last decade has generated 1,061 complaints to the county.

The one consensus that was reached was that a sweeping change of the laws regarding how the county responds to illegal dumping needs to be refined and streamlined. Island County Health Director Tim McDonald said he will begin work immediately to change the local laws to make it easier for authorities to crack down on the problem.

McDonald said that the problem affects everyone. He has seen its effects first hand. He woke one morning to find several bags of trash in his front yard. Upon inspecting the trash, he found a ticket and car tabs with the person’s name and address on them.

Even if a person is caught dumping, that person faces a maximum of a $125 fine, which the county administers only 3 percent of the time.

“If you know that at the most you are going to be fined $125 and there’s only a 3-percent chance of that, where’s the deterrence,” Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell said. “But if you bump that up to a 60 or 70 percent chance on $5,000, that will keep a lot of people from doing it.”

McDowell has been calling for a definitive plan of action to address the problem. The action team recently applied for a $550,000 grant. McDowell said he would approve the grant only if visible action resulted from it. He said he expects to see a plan in place within six months.

“I wanted the grant to say that we had some action dollars,” he said.

McDowell said that he did not feel any of the options presented at the forum would be sufficient to combat the problem.

“I’m not sure if I saw anything yet,” McDowell said. “I’ll give it a chance and see if that perks me up.”

Among the other options for enforcement are establishing a hotline that would allow callers to report illegal dumping as well as provide information on how to properly dispose of garbage. Hidden cameras and a map of hot spots for dumping were also proposed.

As means to overcoming economic impediments, the group proposed surcharges on appliance sales to cover the disposal costs. One of the more popular options was to offer incentives for land owners to clean their properties. Offering half off vouchers for the county’s landfill would promote use of the landfill and lower the waste amassing on people’s property.

The action team is also considering joining the state’s “Litter and it Will Hurt” campaign in order to enhance its education measures. Outreach to the low-income population is vital to help them make proper choices.

“If a person has to choose between taking the trash to the dump and paying their water bill, the choice is obvious,” Island County Environmental Health Director Keith Higman said. “If we can generate opportunities to be of assistance to help those people who can’t make a decision in the proper way, that will be a good thing.”

Another side of combating the dumping problem lies in enforcement of the law and who has how much power. County officials and law enforcement officials are currently working at a reactive level. Neither have enough resources or authority to actively pursue illegal dumps. Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon said his officers can only act on what they see.

“We’ve got a responsibility and we respond,” Allman said. “We try to build a case and present it for prosecution.”

Higman said that law enforcement plays a significant role in monitoring illegal dumping. The laws only apply if a person is caught in the act, he said. When a dump site is handed over to county officials, it is often after the fact and not much can be done.

“Our roles comes in after the dumping,” Higman said. “We’ve lost the opportunity to discover who has done it and we have no other choice but to direct it to the landowner.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at

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