County votes for stricter enforcement of public dumpster rules;  Sheriff: two already prosecuted

The Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office began investigations this week into illegal dumpsites like the one pictured above, which lies behind the former Piggly Wiggly grocery store in East Lawrence. Deputies will also began patroling Lawrence’s public dumpsters and thier surrounding areas to help enforce the rules posted at each site.

Lawrence County Sheriff Max Sanders said two have already been arrested for dumpster diving over the weekend, following the County Commission’s 4-1 vote to tighten legal enforcement for violating rules that regulate 11 public dumpsters stationed throughout the county.

Commissioners voted on the resolution for stricter enforcement in its regular meeting on Friday, Jan. 10.

Dumping waste onto the ground and climbing into the dumpster to retrieve discarded items are two of the most violated rules at several of the dumpsites, according to commissioners. They said out-of-county contractors dumping construction materials at the sites have also caused major problems.

Sanders said two individuals were caught dumpster diving at the East Lawrence dumpster site. The two were instructed to clean up debris knocked out of the dumpster and will be fined for the violation after the case is brought before a judge. 

Alabama legislatures passed a new litter law in September of 2019, which is intended to crack down on offenders across the state. 

According to the legislation, littering, especially litter thrown from a vehicle, will be classified as a Class B misdemeanor. This means violators could face possible jail time up to six months and fines up to $3,000 plus court fees. 

Sanders said his department plans to conduct frequent patrols in Lawrence areas surrounding each community dumpster, and the office has initiated investigations into illegal dumpsites throughout the county.

“We encourage everyone to be responsible and help keep our county clean. Do not trespass inside the dumpsters and do not discard trash or items onto the ground,” Sanders’ department posted to social media on Sunday. “We will have a zero-tolerance and will do our part to enforce the law to help maintain a safe quality of life for our communities.”

The dumpster program began with roll-off dumpsters being placed across the county during spring cleanup events and for select holidays. It was expanded about three years ago and saw the dumpsters become available to residents 24/7, and is designed to keep citizens from having to travel to the county landfill north of Hillsboro to discard excess trash.  

District 2 Commissioner Norman Pool, whose district is home to a dumpster site at Hatton Park, strongly favored stricter enforcement at the sites.

“You prosecute somebody, and the word will get out,” Pool said. “If the penalty is stiff enough, you’ll get people’s attention.”

Pool, who was also in favor of installing solar-powered cameras to monitor each dumpsite, said the commission should be willing to “do whatever it takes to continue the only free service (commissioners) offer” to county residents.

District 5 Commissioner Joey Hargrove, who voted against the resolution, said more spending was not a solution and was in favor of ending the program.

“Pull the dumpsters, and the problem is solved,” he said. “There is no reason we should spend any more money. I don’t want the cameras. It’s not our position as county commissioners to give the citizens anything.”

Hargrove said he was open to the possibility of moving the dumpster in his district that is stationed at Veterans Park. “I want Veterans Park cleaned. Get it out of the ballpark,” he added.

Hargrove was also against adding extra responsibilities for the sheriff’s department.

“We already have a short staff with the sheriff’s department,” he said. “I don’t want our sheriff’s department to have to patrol our dumpsters. They’ve got bigger things to do.”

District 3 Commissioner and interim Solid Waste Department Director Kyle Pankey said he has received several calls from county residents criticizing violators, but they want to keep the public dumpsters.

“It’s bad we have to make an example of people, but for some people, it’s the only way you can convince them that we mean what we say,” Pankey said. “The bottom line is a substantial fine and possible jail time for these people.”

Lawrence residents pay a $14 garbage pickup fee each month, and commissioners said the fee also pays for the community dumpsters.

“If we keep the program and the problem doesn’t stop and the monthly fee doesn’t go up, pretty soon you are out of business,” said Pankey.

He said his department spent $309,140 providing the free service to citizens in fiscal 2019, which included $32,200 in tipping fees, $170,000 for a dump truck, $18,140 for fuel for dump trucks, $53,500 on salaries and $13,700 for employee benefits.

Pankey said adding another dumpster at each site will only make the program more expensive for taxpayers.

“You’re looking at adding $50,000 just for extra dumping if we add an additional dumpster,” Pankey said. “We need to keep this service, so enforcing the rules is going to be pushed. This isn’t going to be a one-week deal.”

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