Environmental Assault

Drivers coming down Deadwood Mountain on Highway 41 last week were treated to a beautiful sight in front of them - a quaint town sitting under a canopy of blue sky - the dramatic high country in the background. A scene suitable for an Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce postcard.

But not a single driver had any idea that hidden from their view, just 50 yards to the west of 41, was an unpleasant sight - more than 4,000 pounds of household garbage and hazardous waste - illegally dumped on a vacant lot.

The nasty dump site was discovered by an Oakhurst resident who was walking the property - property that had a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. The good citizen called EMADCO Disposal Service, who in turn called the Madera County Sheriff’s Department so the illegal dump could be documented.

Once aware of the unpleasant situation, EMADCO sent a three-man crew and a garbage truck to the property. It took the crew two hours to clean-up the mess. Recycling Manager Ashley Smith estimated they picked-up about 4,000 pounds of trash. He said the clean-up cost about $500 - a cost absorbed by his company.

Although the majority of the material cleaned-up was household and kitchen garbage, additional items found in the piles of trash included plastic cups and containers, a rusted saw blade, broken glass, old clothing, rusted auto parts, a broken leaf blower, a queen-size mattress, six tires, a couch, and a car seat.

“There are huge health concerns with some of this stuff we are cleaning up today and what we have found at other illegal dump sites, including hazardous waste (paint and other chemicals) and maggots,” Smith said.

Smith said his company is made aware of an illegal dump site almost weekly.

“These dumps sites tie-up a lot of man-hours for us,” Smith said.

EMADCO General Manager Brian Negley said EMADCO has between 7,500 and 8,000 customers in the Mountain Area (above 1,000 foot elevation), that pay on an average under $25 per month for weekly service. Negley estimates that 30% of residents in their service area do not have garbage pick-up service. That can be as many as 1,800 homes in the service area not using the service.

“Its a shame that for less than $25 a month (about $6 a week for two garbage cans), some people are deciding to dump their garbage in our pristine woods,” Negley said. “From our experience, we know some people are dumping in commercial bins around town. And if those bins are locked, people often place bags of trash on top, to the side, or behind these bins. We highly suggest businesses in the area to place locks on their dumpsters.”

Madera County Deputy Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayyat said illegal dumping, in both the Valley and in the Mountain Area, is a constant problem. He said the same day EMADCO was cleaning up the site in Oakhurst, Redrock (contracted garbage pick-up company in the Valley) was finishing up a two-day cleanup on an empty lot near a residential area in Fairmead.

“A five man crew worked two days to clean-up a large dump site on a vacant residential lot,” Alkhayyat said. “That cost about $5,000 to clean it up.”

Alkhayyat feels the issue is getting worse with the bad economy, with more people electing not to pay for trash service, and feels the 30% figure of people not using garbage service in the Mountain Area, is higher county-wide.

That could change somewhat come July 1, when Madera County implements mandatory trash and recycling services in some areas.

1,500 tons of trash dumped annually

Alkhayyat said about 1,500 tons of illegal trash is dumped annually throughout Madera County, costing the county between $750,000 and $1 million to dispose of.

In addition to the costs to clean-up these sites, the county is also losing revenue that residents would pay to properly dispose of their garbage and other material at the North Fork transfer station, and the Fairmead Landfill.

“From the illegal dumps that we have cleaned-up so far this fiscal year, we have been able to document more than $40,000 in lost revenue from tires, mattresses, green and wood waste, and household trash,” Alkhayyat said.

Even though the North Fork Transfer Station charges just $1 a tire for disposal, Alkhayyat said old tires are a big issue in Madera County, and tires can be found throughout the county.

“Our Public Works road crews are constantly picking-up old tires and garbage throughout the county,” Alkhayyat said.

Fines for illegal dumping can range from $250 to $1,000.

“There are existing ordinances and laws for illegal dumping that the county will start enforcing,” Alkhayyat said.

U.S Forest Service personnel also deal with illegal dump sites scattered throughout the 350,000 acres of the Sierra National Forest surrounding Eastern Madera County. Two areas that dump sites are found routinely are Teaford Saddle and Old Central Camp Road near Bass Lake.

A spokesperson for the Bass Lake Ranger District said staff members come across dump sites almost daily during routine fire prevention and recreation patrols, and this year’s lack of snow has provided more open roads, giving people more access to more land to dump their garbage on. The effect on wildlife can be deadly, as bears, smaller animals, and birds can not digest plastic that they can ingest from a garbage dump site.

“Illegal dumping is a threat to our rivers, lakes, air, land, oceans, and ultimately to our health, environment , and our future,” Alkhayyat said.

People who come across an illegal dump in the Mountain Area while hiking or out walking their dog, depending on the location, are asked to report it to the sheriff’s department, (559) 642-3201, Madera County Public Works, (559) 675-7811, or the Bass Lake Ranger District (559) 877-2218.