By Kathy Lambert
We need your help to stop an all-too-familiar sight: old mattresses, sofas, refrigerators, tires, construction debris, and bags of rubbish strewn on King County’s public and private lands and alongside our roads. Illegal dumping is a scourge in many areas of King County.
These dumpsites are more than just a blight that harm property values and detract from the quality of life in the places we live, work and play. They also create a health hazard that can attract rats, pollute rivers and streams, and contaminate wells if the dumpsite contains hazardous chemicals.
What’s more, if they are not cleaned up right away, the problem is compounded because the sites act as a magnet that invites more illegal dumping. This illegal activity also harms human health and the environment and degrades our quality of life.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and I share the public's frustration with illegal dumping. Clean-up costs are a significant expense for our citizens. Our communities, private property owners and government agencies absorb thousands of dollars in costs every year to remove waste – at a time when public resources are increasingly limited.
In the first half of 2011 alone, the King County Solid Waste Division – in partnership with non-profit groups such as Friends of the Trail – collected more than 20 tons of illegally dumped garbage and three tons of recyclables, and incurred nearly $10,000 in disposal and cleanup costs.
Five other County agencies also work to deal with this problem. The King County Departments of Transportation, Development and Environmental Services, Public Health, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office also routinely respond to and investigate reports of illegal dumping. This still is just a small part of the time, energy and costs also expended by our rural cities, private property owners and wonderful volunteer groups that help clean up litter and garbage.
In addition to cleaning up sites on public lands, the County has a program to assist private property owners victimized by littering. Illegal dumping public awareness campaigns and a hotline to report illegal dumping also are offered by the County.
The good news is that we all can help clean up and prevent illegal dumping in our communities.
First, you can report illegal dumping and dumpsites. King County relies on the help it gets from the public so that we can get to the sites and investigate them as soon as possible. Time is of the essence so that we can catch the polluters and prevent rodent infestations, environmental contamination and other health and safety hazards. King County has worked to make reporting illegal dumpsites easier by creating a central hotline and a website: The King County Illegal Dumping Hotline is at 206-296-SITE (7483) or toll free at 1-866-431-7483, or visit www.kingcounty.gov/ReportDumping
Another great resource is King County’s Adopt-A-Road Program, which is a litter-reduction campaign involving partnerships between volunteer groups and the County’s Road Services Division. The County provides guidance and equipment to foster safe and effective cleanups, and the volunteers collect litter along two miles of designated neighborhood roads twice a year. Again, the places where trash is conspicuous are often where people will look to dump trash illegally, so keeping our roads clean helps prevent more littering. You can see the program website at www.kingcounty.gov/roads.
The County heard last year from neighbors who were sharing frustration on a community blog about a conspicuous illegal dumpsite in their neighborhood. One of the bloggers suggested, in essence: “Why don’t we just go over there and clean it up?” With the consent of the property owner, the suggestion turned into a successful community clean-up event that was organized quickly via social media.
That example illustrates the power of community and how working together, we can make a big difference to prevent and respond to illegal dumping.
Kathy Lambert is serving her third term as the King County Councilmember for District 3, representing Carnation, Duvall, Fall City, Issaquah, North Bend, Preston, Redmond, Sammamish, Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Woodinville.