HAZARD — In the past, massive illegal dump sites were common in several parts of Perry County. And while illegal dumping remains a problem, official say it is nowhere near the level it has been in the past.
Solid Waste Coordinator Rosa Couch noted that when she came into office nine years ago dumping was a massive problem, but through making changes to the garbage collection system in Perry County they have been able to see a reduction in dump sites.
“I can tell you that we have cleaned all of what we felt like were the big dumps in Perry County,” said Couch.
Some of these big dumps had collected over decades and took dozens of people and thousands of dollars to clean them.
“We had one at Beehive and one at Hooterville that required two years, half of it one year and half of it the next year,” she added. “They were just major, major dumps.”
With many of these major dump sites cleaned, officials still have to continuously monitor them to make sure new garbage isn’t piling up anymore. While it is illegal to dump garbage, it is difficult to catch someone in the act or collect evidence to prove the origins of the trash.
“We do try to monitor them, and now if we find illegal dumps we do our best to clean them,” said Couch. “If we cannot prosecute them, and they are not a substantial size, we try to take our community service workers to try and clean them.”
The soil conservation district is also playing a role, as officials recently worked on efforts at Bulan, Hiner, and Hardburly, cleaning the creeks and road sides.
“The trash in the creek and the road side, there was quite a bit there,” said Soil Conservation Chairman Bobby Brown.
While most of this was considered litter and not dump sites, Couch said that the definition of a dump site is pretty wide-ranging.
“If somebody dumps their garbage out on the side of the road, that is considered an illegal dump, and until we get that cleaned it is out there and we don’t leaving lying there,” said Couch.
While many of the major dump sites in the county are gone, there are still several small ones where people will dump their personal trash or larger items. These have been managed so they do not get out of control. However, Couch said she cannot understand why people in Perry County would continue to dump garbage with all of the resources available to them.
“Mainly, I think the random dumping is from people who don’t have garbage service or feel like they can’t afford garbage service,” said Couch. “There is no reason. It would cost them five dollars in gas to drive up the hollow and dump it when for four dollars the garbage service will come right up to their house and get it.”
Perry County also offers free drop off of bulk items to the transfer station and county garage for electronics.
“We have a place to dump your electronics legally. We have a place to dump metal legally. We have a place to dump your sofas, your TVs,” said Couch. “Attached with their garbage service they can dump any bulky item they need to at the transfer station at no cost any time they need to.”
Despite these options, officials are continuing to find people illegally dumping garbage. When these people are found they can face serious jail times and fines.
“People don’t realize that it is a Class A misdemeanor, it is a year in jail and a $500 fine,” said Couch. “That can consist of throwing a cigarette butt or a pop tab.”
It is small items like cigarette butts, pop tabs and food containers that have taken over as the major trash problem in the county.
“I believe that the littering is a far more serious problem than the illegal dumping,” said Couch. “The criminal littering, I guess, is people just not being educated to understand really what it is that they do.”
Brown said that it took only a week after a massive clean-up on Second Creek last fall for the litter to return. While it takes longer for metal in the creeks and dump sites to comeback after a massive clean-up, it can take just a few people throwing trash from their car a couple of days to build up a substantial amount of litter.
Solid Waste has community service workers cleaning up litter on road sides nearly all the time. The Kentucky River Regional Jail also has inmates cleaning roadsides, yet until people stop littering officials say they will never be able to keep roads clean.
“If somebody thinks it is nothing to throw a McDonald’s cup out the window, what they don’t realize is that there are 100 people behind them throwing it out the window too,” said Couch.
“We are better now than we were,” she added, “but the littering is still a far more serious problem.”