Rural neighborhood fights illegal dumping

Brian Cuaron

May 24, 2011 at 12:24 a.m.
Updated May 25, 2011 at 12:25 a.m.

Residents are trying to stop the illegal dumping that has been occurring on River Road for several years. Among the garbage that has been tossed off a small bridge into the dry river bed is part of a boat, an air conditioner and discarded carpeting.

Residents are trying to stop the illegal dumping that has been occurring on River Road for several years. Among the garbage that has been tossed off a small bridge into the dry river bed is part of a boat, an air conditioner and discarded carpeting.

The two would-be litterbugs picked the wrong time and place to drop off their trash.

They drove down River Road in the afternoon toward Tibiletti Road, a well known illegal dumpsite. Then, they met one determined resident.

Mark Phillips saw them hauling a truckload of trash in their blue Dodge when he got into his 2003 Chevrolet Silverado. The two continued on River Road past the dumpsite and onto a bumpy dirt road.

Not one to turn back, Phillips chased them onto Smith Road, another popular illegal dumpsite, and onto Lower Mission Valley Road. Eventually the two later pulled over at Fox Road and waved for Phillips to pass them.

He did, but later turned his truck around to see them unloading their junk. The two quickly jumped back into their vehicle and rushed right past Phillips at a high rate of speed.

Neighbors vs. litterbugs

The River Road neighborhood is an unincorporated area just outside the city of Victoria. Residents have horses and cows along with rural surroundings that would seem to protect this area from urban crime.

However, they complain that those from the city view their home as a free dumpsite. They have found household trash, toilets, parts of a boat, car parts, goat heads and the carcass of pigs, deer and fish that attract buzzards.

"They think that just because we live out here in the country that they can drop whatever they want," said Maria Avila, who moved here in 2002.

Maria and her family, along with Phillips and his wife Kim, combat the illegal dumping by writing down license plate numbers and sending them to the sheriff's office. Sometimes she and husband Arturo Avila have followed the trash dumpers in their car in order to get the information.

Yet the illegal dumping continues. Maria said she doesn't know whether calling the sheriff's office does any good.

So she and her husband, along with their children, go down to one of the three popular dumpsites in her neighborhood to clean up once or twice a month.

Phillips has taken a more direct approach.

He said that his house had been abandoned for awhile before he bought it in 2006 and that people would go onto his 30 acres to do drugs or make out. He made sure to always give those people a piece of his mind, once shooting off his shotgun when he realized some drug users had driven up behind him as he was out dove hunting.

The trespassers got the message and stopped coming. Now he hopes for the same result by confronting those who dump their trash into his neighborhood.

"If we hadn't stepped in and done something, we would really be bad over here," Phillips said.

Phillips has driven up to illegal dumpers in the act and told them to move on, warning he will call the cops. He has had success in making people put their trash back into their vehicles and moving somewhere else.

The sheriff's office has taken notice, even telling Phillips not to chase people after his high-speed chase in 2009.

"And I'm like, 'Well, I'm kind of tired of other people dumping their trash down here,'" Phillips said.

County officials respond

Illegal dumping is a problem in Victoria County, said Kevin Janak, Precinct 2 commissioner.

It's also costly.

"What they don't understand is once they do dump, they cost somebody money to go clean that out," said Janak, whose precinct encompasses the River Road neighborhood.

Janak said his precinct can only afford to clean out the illegal dumpsites when they are scheduled to do something else in the area.

But more help may be coming.

Precinct 2 officials are looking into buying cameras to catch the litterbugs in the act, Janak said. He added that Keep Victoria Beautiful has been in contact with him about them, too, buying some cameras.

Such equipment is needed because illegal dumping is difficult to prosecute.

"It's a hard thing to prove," said James Calaway, Precinct 2 constable. "You are either going to have to see them do it or have them on camera."

Calaway said he has gone through the trash at illegal dumpsites and found peoples' addresses. He said that when he goes over to those addresses that he tells them it would be nice if they would go back to the dumpsite and pick up their trash.

"If they don't do it, what can you do? Nothing," Calaway said.

The county used cameras in 2009 for Precinct 3 by using six inexpensive cameras that cost $600 total. The results were hefty fines and community service hours for six illegal dumpers.

"It was a home run," Commissioner Gary Burns said of the camera's effect, adding that those involved in the project weren't surprised when two cameras were stolen.

"We're all in this together," Janak said. "This is our community and it takes all of us to keep this clean."



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