County to increase fines for litter, allow environment directorate to draft tickets

A large pile of debris off NC 53 and Cape Fear Drive just outside Burgaw accumulated after Hurricane Florence in Pender County. (Photo by Port City Daily / Mark Darrough)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– New Hanover County may soon increase its fines for repeat offenders and give its director of environmental management the ability to impose civil fines for illegal dumping.

The ability to impose fines on those who illegally dump garbage is currently the sole responsibility of law enforcement. Department code authorized the sheriff’s office to issue civil nuisance citations with a penalty starting at $ 100, increasing to $ 300 for second offenders, and $ 500 for third time offenses and subsequent offenses.

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“A county civil citation, for lack of a better word, is a parking fine,” New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer said. While MPs have the option of issuing garbage tickets, they rarely do so, often resorting to verbal warnings instead, Brewer explained.

The sheriff’s office has an environmental detective whose whole day revolves around spotting illegal landfills and other harmful environmental crimes (he’s basically the only one who regularly writes tickets).

“He’s doing a fantastic job, but there’s way too much going on for one person,” said Joe Suleyman, county environmental management director.

On Monday, New Hanover County commissioners will consider encouraging Suleyman to impose civil penalties on repeat offenders over the illegal dumping. Fourth offenders and beyond could face a new civil penalty of $ 800 –– increasing the amount of the fine awarded for third offenses and beyond $ 300.

He could also draft tickets for a new fine of $ 1,000 for mass content violations. This would consist of “debris, garbage, abandoned structures, vehicles, boats or household or commercial items, demolition materials, chemicals or vegetation” in quantities greater than 5 cubic meters (about enough to fill half of a dump truck. tilting).

“The problem is, the way the prescription is originally written, there isn’t much of a deterrent there,” Suleyman explained. “When we sit down and calculate how much it costs us to clean this up, it’s way more than the penalties.”

Repeat problems for county environmental management staff (who handle waste and recycling off US 421 for the region) include the Carolina Beach Road and River Road dirt roads. Seabreeze Road is another “hot spot for dumping,” Suleyman said.

“People have just come in and unloaded their entire garage: mattresses, washing machines, tires, clothes,” he said. “And a heap attracts other heaps.” County staff encounter the illegally dumped piles on a daily basis, he said.

Before and after the hurricanes, out-of-state contractors poured in, paid to remove household and garden debris before illegally dumping it at the roadside. “We caught them on River Road –– it’s their favorite place, River Road –– just throwing it away,” he said. “Because they know our debris removal contractors are going to have to go pick it up, which affects all of us as taxpayers to get this picked up.”

The crews paid by the public will clean it up, and the next day, “we’ll go over there and it looks like a war zone again,” Suleyman explained.

Suleyman must collect data and evidence himself to ensure that illegal dumpers are fined. He then forwards this information to the sheriff’s office, who must complete a report and subpoena the detective: “That’s a lot of manpower for a hundred dollar fine,” he said.

According to Lt. Brewer, officers have the discretion to pronounce a civil offense or to indict someone criminally under state law for dumping garbage. He compared it to the time he spent in Wrightsville Beach for the Sheriff’s Office in the summer, where they encountered a lot of public urination. Officers would look into civil citations, unless the person is a repeat offender or is acting in a particularly egregious manner, as criminal citations mean officers may have to appear in court and this marks the record of the person.

If someone is, for example, intoxicated and is arrested on a host of other charges, officers will sometimes tackle a criminal charge of rubbish if they throw away a beer, Brewer explained.

“I’ve seen other cities cleaner than Wilmington, I’ve seen other cities dirtier than Wilmington,” Brewer said. “So I think we’re right in the middle. ”

Brewer said he could see how allowing the county’s environmental management director to draft tickets could streamline the process, without requiring the involvement of a deputy in each case. “By giving them the opportunity to write a civil citation. . . it’s probably a good idea, ”Brewer said.

The county loses about $ 60,000 in tip fee revenue each year due to illegal dumping, Suleyman estimates.

“The people of the county are paying the cost of this cleanup,” he said. “So that’s just not fair. “

Send advice and comments to Johanna F. Also at [email protected]

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