City of Alice continues fight against illegal dumping

Melissa Cantu Trevino
Alice Echo News Journal

Alice code compliance officers have been battling illegal dumping sites around town for years. The city will clean up an illegal dumping site, but in a few days the trash is back as if nothing was ever done.

“We are having issues with illegal dumping. We've been working pretty hard to clean up the city, but we need the citizens,” said Patrick Thomas, City of Alice Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Chief. “Our goal is to make our city look prettier, nicer, cleaner. It's not an easy task and not a very popular task. We need to be able to start doing this that way our community can be proud of the beautiful community that we do have. We have to be proud of what we do have and take care of it. Nobody's going to come to our city and take care of our city for us; we have to do it ourselves.”

For years, the code department only had one officer to cover the whole city. As of October 2020, the city increased its code department up to four officers.

“Our department has increased in staffing and we've also added some abatement crews that help us abate property when a homeowner doesn't fix an issue, and we have to move over to the abatement process. Our department has grown to meet the needs that we have,” Thomas said. “Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the former code officer wasn't doing her job. It's that how can one person deal with the whole city. I'm sure it was overwhelming for her.”

Thomas, along with Code Compliance Supervisor Deanna Womack and the three additional officers, Frank Gomez, Anthony Ruiz and Michelle Perales, want to work towards a better looking city.

“We're not trying to issue citations or be forceful. We are not trying to force anyone...Our last resort will be to issue citations that may carry a fine,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to try and work with the community to clean up and work more as a team with our citizens and not as an authority figure...My belief, as a person, is that we can work together and solve a lot more than me trying to force someone. All that does is make people angry. We don't want to do that. If we can just treat people right, love each other, love our neighbors and love our community, we could go a lot further.”

Thomas said if you happen to get a letter in the mail about your property to give them a call.

“We want the citizens to know that we're here to work with you and if you get a letter, it's not because we're trying to pick on somebody,” he said. “We're definitely not going to be issuing citations right away...We're more concerned with compliance. We just want them to be proud of our city.”

Thomas and Womack have dealt with illegal dumps sites that can hinder life-saving response time from first responders, and may mean the difference between life and death.

“We just cleaned up a dumpsite on the dead end on North Aransas. There's been a couple of house fires (in the area) in the last couple of months and when we went to out there it was disgusting. Just to fight the fires, the firefighters couldn't get over all the junk that was in the yard,” Thomas said.

In one day, code compliance officers and the abatement crews collected 32 tires from the side of the road leading to the dead end on North Aransas.

“They've been working pretty hard and our abatement crew has been out there cleaning it up. Our goal is to eventually get the whole city clean. It's a process and is going to take some time,” Thomas said. “Cleaning up the city has to be hit from different angles. One part is education. That's the first step to educate. Sometimes people just don't realize that they're doing something wrong. We run into that a lot on the streets. A lot of times (citizens we tell us they didn't know that (what they've been doing) was a violation.”

Womack, working with the county code enforcement officer, because part of the illegal dumping comes from county residents who come into the city to dump their trash.

“It's about educating. They either don't know what the rules are or they just figure, because it hadn't been enforced in the past, it's okay,” Deanna Womack. “In the city, one person puts out their brush for pickup because it's legal for them to do so. Other people, then, take advantage of one person's pile and dump things in that brush pile that aren't allowed to be in the brush pick up.”

Tires are a big problem. The city doesn't pick up tires. Tires should be taken to the landfill.

“Take your tires out to the landfill, pay a fee to get them recycled. It's everywhere. When brush pick up does come and pick up the mess that's left there. They pick up what they can and get it relatively clean, then two days later, because people think it's a dumping ground they go back to throw their trash,” Womack said.

“People don't realize if you (live) in the city and have a water bill, you just take your water bill and you can dump at the landfill for free. Just as much energy as it took to take whatever they're dumping at that empty lot, they could very easily take it to the landfill and dump it there without causing an issue,” Thomas said.

The county landfill is open Monday through Saturday. Anyone with a water bill can take their trash, once a week, to the landfill for free. Landfill is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. They are closed on Sundays and Holidays. More information on landfill call 361-664-7354.

“We try really hard to work with every citizen. If they're cleaning something up, we work with them. We're working with one resident right now who is demolishing a house that burned. We are doing what we can,” Thomas said. “It's case-by-case. It depends on what the situation is. If somebody's having issues getting their property cleaned up and needs help, we are willing to work with them. Last resort, is to give citations and possibility, go to court. We don't want to force somebody to do something. Of course, we have that option if we need to, but we really don't want to. We want to work with people.”

Thomas said that illegal dumping has spilled over to dumpsters at local businesses. Together, code compliance officers and the businesses are working to keep trash out of business-paid trash bins. Businesses pay for the trash bins and end up having to pay when unauthorized users dump their trash in them.

“We are working with some of the businesses on (illegal dumping in trash bins.) For instance, at the mall we've relocated two dumpsters into different areas to try to curve some of that illegal dumping. We are working on installing cameras at different location that are going to catch some of the people who are doing it repeatedly. Again, people don't realize that you can't do that and it's not legal for you to do that,” Thomas said. “The first thing is, if you're doing it we ask you to stop. We're asking citizens to dump your trash properly. They maybe doing it unintentionally. If that is the case, it's done. Now, you know, don't do it anymore. For the ones doing it intentionally, that know it's wrong – those are the ones we are going to start enforcing that to. We are bringing in cameras and different tools to try to stop some of this stuff from happening. It's a huge task.”

Womack said that they look through the dumpsters and find leftover garage sale items, household trash, legal documents and more. They must link the trash to the possible owner and find the person who dumped it.

“We do look through the bags and try to link where they come from. Unfortunately, one thing we did find in the trash was papers with personal information like names and addresses. Did they dump it or did they pay someone else to dispose of it properly,” she said. “Regardless of the case. We want people to remember that we will work with you. If you are trying to clean up your property, we understand that it can't be done all at once and that paying someone to do it can be costly.”

The compliance officers are following property management codes and city ordinance laws to combat the illegal dumping situation in the city. They are hoping to get a civic app to help everyone work together. The app will have trash and brush pickup routes.