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Farmers often bear burden of illegal dumping

POSTED December 18, 2012 5:32 p.m.
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No other county in the state seems to get as much illegal trash dumping as Stanislaus County. That's the summation of County Supervisor Jim DeMartini of Ceres, who almost weekly has to clean up piles of debris dumped on his Westport area farm property.

"Other counties don't seem to have the problems that we do," said DeMartini. "The problem is more prevalent in the Central Valley. The problem doesn't exist in other parts of the state."

With all of the vast rural expanse of Napa County, officials there told DeMartini they don't have the problem of illegal dumping and concluded Napa must have a different caliber of people. DeMartini balked, then thought and realized it was a true statement.

"There is that type of mentality and attitude here that it's okay to dump. We even had someone dump a pile of trash on the asphalt at a stop sign on Jennings Road. It was left there right on the asphalt even though it was a road hazard."

That "mentality" led to the Nov. 8 death of Stan Hyer, a 52-year-old Ceres ranch hand who died on Keyes Road after being struck during a pursuit with a man who was caught illegal dumping trash along a rural Ceres property. Authorities later arrested Patrick Michael Denny, 41, who is charged him with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, hit and run resulting in death or injury and driving on a suspended license.

DeMartini rarely sees household trash dumped along country roadside and in orchards. He routinely finds tires, rolls of discarded carpet, broken-down furniture, refrigerators and construction materials like sheetrock and lumber.

"Trash dumping is a problem all over the county. And it's a year-round problem."

Catching perpetrators is hard, he notes, because they sneak in at night, back into orchards where they are more hidden and quickly rake their trash into the orchard or field and leave. It's not often that clues are left behind - like magazines with labels - but that often results in a visit to send them cleaning up the mess.

DeMartini said he once saw a van with company lettering dumping off carpet. He wasn't close enough to report the company to authorities but suspects it was a fly-by-night operation. DeMartini said he has not ever approached anyone like Hyer did.

Some small-time residential contractors, he believes, are dumping waste from remodeling projects to keep down their costs. The supervisor found "two extremely large loads of construction materials from a burned-out structure" on his property one day. Authorities also know that some dishonest people approach tire shops with an offer to dispose of tires for 50 cents each, knowing it will cost them $2 at the landfill. The hauler takes the tires straight to the country where they dump them in piles or dump them while traveling down the road to better escape detection than parking.

"Most of the farmers have to clean it up themselves."

And they must do it quickly. DeMartini said leaving a pile in place is only an invitation to others to add to it.

The problem of illegally dumping contributed to a November death of a Keyes Road ranch hand, Stan Hyer, who chased down a perpetrator and was struck and killed by his vehicle. A suspect was arrested and faces a murder charge.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christiansen said he's trying to make a dent in what he calls the "despicable and disrespectful" act of illegal dumping. In July he started a program using Alternative Work participants to clean up roadside waste. The program uses two crews, each overseen by a deputy, to pick up waste all over the county. Ultimately he wants a total of four crews working each day.

"There is an amazing amount of trash being dumped," said Christiansen. "Drive anywhere in Stanislaus County and you'll see it. It is amazing how disrespectful people are."

Since the program started, the county has collected 111,000 pounds of garage.

The crews cannot pick up garbage dumped in orchards or other private properties.

"But if the pile manages to get to the public right of way, we will go out and pick it up."

Christiansen said the crews are also being used for graffiti abatement and beautification projects.

"If I can't house these folks, I might as well put them to work," said the sheriff.

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