Workshop held here concerning illegal dumping

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Jim Wells County Commissioner Wally Alanis complained Tuesday of what he and other county officials consider a possible health problem outside of Orange Grove, involving several hundred tires stacked on a single piece of property.

The site is currently considered exempt under illegal dumping laws because of an agricultural exemption from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Alanis didn't know how the county should proceed on the case, but he was in the right place Tuesday to find that answer.

John H. Ockels, Ph.D., who is the author of "Local Control of Illegal Dumping" and is considered an expert in illegal dumping regulations and nuisance abatement laws in Texas, led a workshop Tuesday to review those laws.

The workshop was held at the conference room in CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice.

Ockels is the director of the Texas Illegal Dumping Resource Center, which provides several sources of information regulating illegal burning and dumping laws.

"I'd really like to take a look at that letter from TCEQ, If there is an agricultural exemption, under the Chapter 365, then you can still cover the problem from a nuisance standpoint, especially if there is a possible health risk with the mosquito breeding," Ockels told Alanis and JWC Health and Safety Officer Israel Lopez.

They agreed that mosquitoes and rodents in the area had been a concern, especially with the number of discarded tires on the property.

Another audience member in the meeting told the group about a friend who wanted to burn a small structure on his property.

Ockels told her it was illegal, but she wanted to know what penalties would be involved if caught.

"Well, he could get a fine, anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000. If he's out in the county, he could probably do it illegally, but if he's caught doing it, it will be a pretty large fine. It's against the Texas Outdoor Burning Rules," Ockels said.

She said her friend knew it was illegal, but he wanted to know what would happen if he were caught. JWC Abatement officer Hector Zertuche was in the audience, and said that if he tried it, he would go out there and catch him.

Ockels said the problem of illegal dumping costs officials more than just money. It will cost them in the long run the support of community members who expect their county or municipal government to do something about dumping in their area.

In looking for support for their program, Ockels suggests, among other places, to look to the citizens, because dumping has a negative effect on their property values.

It is in their interest to help solve the problem in any way possible. Those involved with economic development and organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce should care about this issue, because he said, "It's hard to sell a dirty community."

Ockels also gave city and county officials some advice for possible avenues for funding dumping enforcement and explained some of the policy issues counties and municipalities across the state face when trying to combat illegal burning and dumping.