News 3 Special Report: Illegal Dumping - WRBL

News 3 Special Report: Illegal Dumping

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You drive past litter on the side of the road everyday, maybe without much thought, but the problem is worse than you might think.

Tires, grass clippings, and a variety of household garbage are common sightings at illegal dumps in Columbus and parts of Russell County. Mostly dirt roads and uninhabited areas, the sites are used by people trying to avoid the costs of landfills and trash collection.

Russell County's General Manager of Sanitation Carl Currington says, "We've got roads that we cleaned up on Monday, and you go back on Wednesday and they're as bad as they were on Monday, and if the people in the area don't care, ain't much you can do about it."

Al Lyons, Columbus' community service coordinator, says, "There's a whole lot of everything. We clear it about once a month, next month it's right back again."

In Columbus the job of cleaning up illegal dump sites falls to Lyons and his community service crews, but he says that's not one of their primary tasks. "When we are taken away from our main function of cutting grass during the grass cutting season or picking up trash to go take maybe an hour, two hours to go pick up some stuff then take it to the landfill, you've wasted almost half a day trying to remove this eyesore, and so that's a big problem that we face sometimes," he says.

In Russell County, Currington manages a staff of 30 people who collect the trash for the county's 467 miles. Ten hours and nearly $3000 in tax payer contributions a week are dedicated solely to cleaning up illegal dump sites.

"It's an ongoing job," says Currington. "You actually never get caught up with it because we've got to have help from the citizens. If they'll get tag numbers and call it into the sheriff, call it into us, we can try to catch these people to cut down on this, but unless the community and everybody gets involved, you won't ever cut it down or stop it."

Illegal dumping is a problem that's nearly impossible to fix. Without identifying marks it's very hard to tell where the trash came from. Lyons says special enforcement officers try to patrol frequent dump sites for clues. "They go out there and they go through the stuff and see if they can find some kind of identification, an address or something that they can pin the dumping to, but nine times out of ten they don't," says Lyons.

Illegal dump sites can be more problematic than just being an eyesore, however. They can also be hazardous to the roads crews cleaning them up.

Lyons says, "We carry forks, pitchforks, shovels, rakes and other stuff. We don't allow them to just grab the stuff first because these dumping sites become habitats for creatures." Lyons recalls one incident when a snake had made a home in an illegally dumped tire.

The collectors encounter a number of tires abandoned by people trying to avoid the $2 fee to dump them at the Columbus landfill.

Recently Russell County's waste managers collected hundreds of discarded tires and over 1400 bags of trash on just 45 miles of road. Currington says the problem will only be fixed when citizens get involved. "They see these people dumping. They ride up and down these roads every day, and they think nothing about it. I guess they're just adjusted to it and they're happy with it like that.

For now, the road crews will continue to clean up where the citizens dump off.

If you see someone illegally dumping, call your local law enforcers and let us know.

Email us at or contact Jessi at  

Currington says it takes about 15 minutes for someone to unload a truck full of trash, so authorities may be able to catch them red handed.

The penalty for illegal dumping is a $500 fine and possible jail time in Alabama. In Georgia, dumping more than 500 pounds can wield a penalty of up to $25,000 or up to two years in jail.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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