N.J. cracking down on illegal dumpers

NJ DEP Deputy Commissioner Michele Siekerka speaks near hundreds of tires collected from Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in Burlington County, as state officials unveil a tough illegal dumping initiative.
NJ DEP Deputy Commissioner Michele Siekerka speaks near hundreds of tires collected from Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in Burlington County, as state officials unveil a tough illegal dumping initiative. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 29, 2014

The trash looked as if it had been dropped off in a hurry.

Someone apparently drove down the isolated sandy road in the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in Burlington County, found an open spot, then tossed the construction debris from the back of a pickup truck.

On Thursday, the longer, more tedious process of cleaning up the refuse and other nearby garbage sites was undertaken by volunteers, including state officials, as part of efforts to draw attention to a new state crackdown on illegal dumping.

The yearlong "Don't Waste Our Open Space" initiative will use motion-sensor cameras in some state parks and wildlife management areas to help capture dumpers in the act, state officials said.

The images of the violators and their vehicles will be posted on a new website, www.stopdumping.nj.gov, as a way of identifying offenders with the public's help. Information about arrests and charges filed in connection with dumping also will be placed on the site, officials said.

At the same time, state park police and conservation officers, along with state troopers and local police, plan to reallocate more resources to illegal dumping investigations and pursue stiffer penalties in cooperation with local authorities.

With more than 170 publicly owned tracts, including state parks, forests, wildlife management areas, and natural lands and preserves, "it's an awesome responsibility for us to keep it clean," said Michele Siekerka, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

"We find all kinds of unsightly debris, tons and tons of inappropriate material like what's behind me," she said, gesturing to hundreds of tires that had been collected from Woodland, Pemberton and Chatsworth sites inside the state forest.

Dumpers better beware, state officials said. Stepped-up efforts will be made to enforce illegal dumping penalties, which include fines of up to $5,000 per violation and civil penalties of up to $1,500 per violation along with the confiscation and forfeiture of any vehicle used in the dumping, loss of driver's license and restitution.

The DEP and county health departments plan to seek much stiffer penalties through the Solid Waste Management Act, which authorizes them to initiate civil actions for illegal dumping, officials said.

Offenders can face "penalties up to $50,000 a day and incarceration," Siekerka said. They will be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

To further discourage dumping, more warning and education signs about the problem will be posted by the DEP on state lands while the agency explores road barriers and additional lighting in areas frequented by offenders.

"We're taking a hard-line, serious approach," said Siekerka. "At the end of the year, we will measure our success" and plan for the future.

The new measures "will send a strong message . . . to those who abuse our public lands," added John Giordano, the DEP's assistant commissioner of compliance and a former federal prosecutor. "They will be caught."

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA), a nonprofit which supports the Pinelands, "regularly receives phone calls about illegal dumping . . . which is not only visually displeasing but also can contaminate our water supply," said assistant executive director Jaclyn Rhoads. "We are pleased that DEP is taking measures to address the problem, and PPA will help monitor state forests for dumping and work with the department to ensure success."

The idea for the initiative was hatched last spring after volunteers removed 100 tires from a park, said Katie Barnett, a DEP education and outreach official who passed the information on to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

"He said, 'I want you to create a task force and do something about it,' " Barnett said. "He wanted us to think collaboratively and go beyond state agencies, to whoever was interested in tackling the problem."

Among those plotting the state's new strategy was Artie Zanfini, a DEP compliance and enforcement division analyst, who will study the results after a year, "learn from them," and "then develop the next strategy."

While state officials were announcing the new initiative in South Jersey, Martin announced it at the D&R Canal State Park in Franklin Township, Somerset County.

Some dump sites have included not just tires but entire cars, trucks and boats, said Barnett. Dumping has been seen in every county across the state, which oversees 813,000 acres of preserved open space.

"Raising awareness of this problem is just part of the solution," said Siekerka. "We hope the mix of increased enforcement, combined with education and stewardship, will result in an improved environment in our natural areas and result in a better experience for those who enjoy our state lands."

On Thursday, volunteers joined state officials who were cleaning up a Byrne state forest dump site, which included drywall, particle board, rusty cans, plastic bottles, and a linoleum floor.

It felt good to clean up the mess, said Quinn Whitesall, 23, a Salem resident and AmeriCorps volunteer who filled plastic bags with trash. "I like going out and hiking, and I don't want to see this," she said.


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