Locals are no strangers to encountering trash or refuse strewn just about anywhere people congregate along the river or at Lake Kaweah. But look closer at the canyon landscape.
Strewn in steep ravines off North Fork Drive, South Fork Drive, and Mineral King Road are the big-ticket items illegally dumped merely to save landfill fees. There is just about any piece of junk imaginable in one place or another — refrigerators, appliances, mattresses, tires, car parts, tree and yard cuttings, glass containers, construction debris, and even last week’s household garbage.
There are old vehicles that are so far off the beaten path they can’t even be fished out with conventional tow trucks. Some were accidents; others were ditched intentionally to mask criminal activity.
The problem is not unique to Kaweah Country as tons of trash are also dumped annually in orchards and farmland on the Valley floor. Oftentimes, refuse dumped in fields and orchards is set afire and, when old furniture and building materials are ignited, toxic pollutants are released into the atmosphere and that degrades already poor air quality.
These illegal dumping issues were among the talking points during a presentation by Nicole Riley and Parveen Sandhu, administrators with the Tulare County Solid Waste Department, at the regular meeting of the Tulare County Planning Commission on Wednesday, Aug. 10.
Riley, who is the department’s fiscal manager, said that in 1998, the County created a partnership between the Solid Waste Department and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. In the ensuing years, the County’s illegal dumping program has been assisting property owners with enforcement and cleanup.
Riley said once TCSO can determine that the dumping was illegal, procedures are in place that assist landowners who help with the cleanup. Landowners who remove and transport illegally dumped materials can have their dump fees waived.
“Since we started the program, we have averaged $76,000 per year in fee waivers,” Riley reported. “For cleanup in County-owned right-of-ways, the Sheriff’s Department has a tire/litter abatement program that uses inmate labor.”
Tired of tires
The disposal of used tires remains a huge problem (800 tons per year), Riley said. To deal with all the old tires, the County must contract for an exclusive recycler to collect, grind, and recycle tires. One-third of the 800 tons annually are collected from illegal dumping.
The current tire recycler is Shamrock Recycling, operating under a contract with Tulare County that runs through October 31, 2018. When consumers purchase new tires, a state-mandated recycling fee is added to the price and the seller recycles the old tires.
Many rural properties, or consumers who install their own tires, often have tires sitting around the property collecting water and breeding mosquitoes. Tires from cars and small trucks may be disposed of at area landfill collection stations for a fee of $2 each; large truck tires are $10.
For tire haulers planning to dispose of more than 10 tires in a single load, special licensing is required. Bulk loads may be disposed of for $185 per ton.
Riley said the county is searching for grants to make tire disposal/recycling free to all who bring loads to the collection stations. Even charging just $2 per tire ensures illegal dumping will continue, Riley agreed.
For many years, the numbers of illegally dumped mattresses rivaled tires in scope and magnitude of an illegal dumping problem. A state-mandated law now requires mattress sellers to take back an old mattress upon delivery of a new one.
For that more sensible exchange, retailers add $11 to the cost of the new mattress. Of the 15,400 mattresses that are collected in Tulare County annually, more than 1,500 are from illegal dumping.
The state-mandated Bye Bye Mattress program that took effect at the end of last year is making it possible for nearly all mattresses to be recycled. It’s now free to dispose of dry, non-mangled mattresses at the Visalia and Teapot Dome (Porterville) county landfills.
Approximately 80 percent of mattress materials are recyclable — foam for carpet liner, springs for reusable steel, wood for mulch, and fiber for industrial filters.
Appliances like stoves, dishwashers, and refrigerators have similar take-back purchase programs. However, used tires and appliances that are not exchanged for new ones will continue to be illegally dumped.
How to combat illegal dumping
Anyone who sees a suspicious load in Three Rivers that is not headed down the hill, take note of the license number and a description of the vehicle, then call the Sheriff’s Office dispatch at (559) 733-6218. Next, call the illegal dumping hotline at (559) 624-7250.
For more information on upcoming cleanup events or collection of bulky items, log onto www.tularecountyrecycles.