Pictured: On Thursday, JWC Abatement Officer Hector Zertuche documented thousands of threaded casing protectors used for oil wells off of South Reynolds and Alviar Street, which washed off a business property and through the adjacent creek bed during the heavy rains two weeks ago. The materials were traced back to K&S Protector Service, Zertuche said. Photo by

MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Zertuche has been on the job for one year, officials say they've seen success

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr.

Alice Echo-News Journal

County officials said this week that with 210 illegal dumping citations given from May 2006 to April 2007, Jim Wells County Abatement Officer Hector Zertuche has made great strides in improving the environment for local residents.

"Through his efforts, I think Zertuche has raised the public's awareness of the county's efforts to make the roadways cleaner," said Pct. 1 County Commissioner Zenaida Sanchez. "I'm pleased that he's made the effort to cover the entire county, from uncovering illegal dumping by roofing companies, to Orange Grove dumpsites and dumped tires on McMasters. He's been all over JWC. The people who live near these dump sites, I'm sure are the ones who appreciate his efforts the most."

Zertuche, who works out of the JWC Sheriff's Department, has always received cooperation from Sheriff Oscar Lopez when needed, Sanchez said.

Zertuche also handles illegal activities he finds on the road, such as DWIs and other crimes, while cracking down on illegal dumping activity.

Zertuche does comb through household garbage as part of his job. Sometimes the items are found in difficult to access locations, such as foul water creek beds and behind private property. It is a job Zertuche has taken to quickly, and he is rarely found without his camera in hand, ready to document illegal dumping on the scene.

"From what the residents have told me, it's working out there. They are seeing a difference. As people become more aware of the consequences involved, there is less being dumped on the county roads," Zertuche said.

During the average week, Zertuche spends his time driving the county roads of each precinct, looking for instances of illegal activity. He knows the back roads well, and he is familiar with the areas that are still trouble spots for the county.

Places like County Road 144 and County Road 129 are still used frequently by illegal dumpers, and these are some of the areas Zertuche visits most frequently. He said though that other roads, such as County Road 247, have seen improvement over the last year

In the last year, Zertuche has logged more than 30,000 miles on his patrol vehicle. But the time and effort does pay off, he said.

He estimates that more than 90 percent of perpetrators are found guilty. Much of that number is based on the documentation Zertuche is able to collect as part of his investigation.

"There are people out there who throw all sorts of items in the creeks," he said. "People don't realize it will eventually go into someone's water supply. We really appreciate the people who have called to help and who have given good feedback, but we would like to get even more people involved.

"Environmental crime is new to everyone. We'd like to be more proactive than reactive. If you see someone traveling the back roads with a truckload of materials, we would really like to get a call. We'd like to catch them in the act when we can."