On any day, a walk along the Guadalupe River should be greeted with nothing more than a natural and peaceful view. But instead, the scene is often littered with piles of illegally dumped trash.
Bags of garbage, broken household furniture, large piles of debris and ravaged tires were just a few of the unwelcomed items dumped near the Victoria Paddling Trail U.S. 59 South access point on a sunny July afternoon.
And trash isn’t unlawfully left by the river only; it is often dumped along highways and on neighborhood streets in Victoria. The act of illegal dumping trash is becoming more common, and the Texas Department of Transportation is beginning to work with area law enforcement to crack down on violators, said Lucea’n Kuykendall-Herring, the agency’s public information officer.
“Illegal trash dumping is becoming more and more of a noticeable problem in this area,” she said. “It leads to a host of problems and takes a lot of time and money to continue cleaning up.”
Illegal dumping is the intentional dumping of solid waste, junk, garbage on public or private property without the knowledge or approval of the property owner, Kuykendall-Herring said. It also includes littering along road rights of way and dumping into waterways.
Common violations of illegal dumping include discarding household or construction debris in unauthorized locations; disposing of trash or yard waste into bodies of water; pouring used motor oil or restaurant grease into storm drains or down manhole covers; and dumping or improperly disposing of tires.
A large mound of trash piled at the corner of Murray and South Moody streets in July sat there for more than two weeks, said Victoria resident Coily Ballard, who lives on Murray Street. The pile included destroyed couches, overflowing trash bags and a variety of scattered garbage.
“Someone left all of that stuff there, and I don’t know if they thought it’d just all get picked up,” Ballard said. “I hope they thought that, because otherwise it’d be pretty messed up to leave it all.”
Ballard said that over multiple weeks the pile seemed to be getting picked through, which created a bigger mess. Into early August, trash piled at the same corner included large branches, torn boxes and an old mattress.
“We’d obviously rather it not be here,” she said.
Because dumpsites often contain broken glass, metal, hazardous waste and other unsanitary and hazardous materials, Kuykendall-Herring said the problem is more than just “unsightly;” it can lead to “major public health and safety concerns.”
“Not only that, but dumping impacts surrounding neighborhoods and gives a very negative image on the community,” she said.
The transportation agency’s employees are often forced to take time to visit sites and clean up the trash, Kuykendall-Herring said, and the cost to do that can run into the thousands of dollars. Moreover, rats, snakes, mosquitoes and other pests often populate around dumpsites, which can make cleaning sites even costlier.
Recently, Kuykendall-Herring said she came across more than 40 bags of trash along the side of U.S. 87. She said it looked like trash that was either blown off trucks or left by people heading to the dump who lost it and left it.
“It is pretty horrible out there,” she said.
Darryl Lesak, the city of Victoria’s director of environmental services, said illegal trash dumping in the city is a “huge issue.” Aside from trash being dumped along the highways or the river, he said people illegally throw their trash in other people’s dumpsters.
He fields calls from commercial business owners who say their dumpster was just emptied, but when they arrived at work, it was already full of someone else’s trash.
The burden then falls on the business owner, Lesak said, because it costs them extra money to either pay again to have their dumpster emptied outside the usually scheduled time, or they have to hold on to their own trash until it the dumpster is emptied.
To make matters worse, he said, dumpsters can become so full that they overflow, and then the business owner can be charged for littering, even if it wasn’t their trash.
Lesak said some businesses have cameras that can help catch who dumps the trash, but it can be challenging and time-consuming to track down the perpetrator. He said while some people may think that all dumpsters are for public use, it’s likelier that people may not pay for their own trash service and don’t want to or can’t afford to take their trash to a proper dumping site, so they just dump it anywhere.
“It happens way too regularly,” he said. “It’s a very real problem we have to try and deal with.”
Authorized locations to throw away garbage include one’s personal trash can or dumpster, state permitted landfills, collection stations and recycling facilities for recyclables.
Dumped trash along the river, Lesak said, quickly becomes a safety hazard.
“If it’s near the river then it’ll probably end up in the river, and where do people think our drinking water comes from?” he asked.
In Victoria County, Precinct 2 Constable James Calaway spends time trying to combat the issue. He said in his nearly 25 years serving the county, illegal dumping has become one of his “biggest pet peeves.”
“I’ve been chasing people doing this for 23 years, and sometimes we catch them, other times we don’t,” he said. “It’s a sore spot with me.”
Calaway said just recently along one Victoria street, he’s seen plywood, beds, large piles of brush and carpet all unlawfully thrown outside. He said the problem needs to be better addressed.
“We’ve had things like Keep Victoria Beautiful, and we want to keep it clean, but how can we do that if there’s trash everywhere?” he asked.
Kuykendall-Herring said residents must take it upon themselves to help reduce illegal dumping to create a cleaner, safer and more environmentally friendly area. She said residents can ensure they dispose of their garbage in authorized areas, arrange volunteer-based cleanups and secure trash and debris firmly when transporting it to a legal disposal site to help end the problem.
“People need to remember that just because you did not dump the trash does not mean that you are not responsible for the trash being illegally dumped, because everyone needs to take steps to stop it,” she said. “The community must work together.”