In my last columns I dove into some heavy policy issues including economic development, work force and policy issues in northern Maine, and some work that I have done on reducing our tax burden in a responsible way. This week I would like to discuss a topic that I believe is also very important and vital to our economic prosperity in Maine. Illegal dumping.
Last year, I proposed and passed a bill that sharply increases the penalties for illegally dumping garbage on another’s property. I learned a lot during the public hearing and work sessions on this bill. Our state depends on generous access to private property for our recreational needs. Ninety five percent of the land we recreate on is private property. We heard from many landowners who were on the cusp of closing their land to access because of dumping.
I strongly believe that we should take personal responsibility in the removal and discarding of one’s own trash. We heard from the tourism industry, the Small Woodlot Owners Association, the Farm bureau, the Audubon Society and private citizens. Mainers rely on access to private lands for a variety of outdoor activities including snowmobiling, bird watching, hunting, hiking, and others. Tourists generate billions of dollars in economic activity per year, helping to create jobs and support the economy. Tourists don’t come here to find “no trespassing signs” and garbage dumped in the woods and on the side of the road. They come here to enjoy Maine’s natural beauty precisely because our lakes, rivers, woodlands and coast are so clean and free of pollution.
While some of the materials that are being dumped are common household trash, of more concern are large household appliances such as refrigerators and washer/dryers etc. Even more shocking is the volume of construction debris. These materials are especially dangerous because they can often contain dangerous chemicals that need to be disposed of properly. Unfortunately, homeowners and sometimes contractors dump such material instead of bringing it to the transfer station. In most cases of contractor dumping the contractor was paid to dispose of the material properly but chose to pocket the money and just dump the material.
We know some of the reasons why people dump. Not surprisingly it is the cost of bringing it to the transfer station. We did learn however that almost all municipalities will waive the costs for low-income families. I personally wish that more municipalities had a large pick-up day for appliance-type items.
The Maine Warden Service investigates reported dumping sites. They have had many successes in identifying the persons responsible for the dumping. Some of the penalties for illegal dumping include a fine of at least $500, requiring the illegal dumper to pay damages to the property owner, at least 100 hours of community service, possible suspensions of any license or permit, including a driver’s license, and requiring the person to remove the illegally dumped material.
Many groups, including local snowmobile clubs, help in the removal of dumped trash. The Standish Sno-Seekers have cleaned several sites in Standish including 14 tons removed from the Steep Falls Wildlife Sanctuary. The town of Standish was very gracious and waived the fees at the transfer station. If you know about any dumping or dumping sites, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has a landowner relations department. People are encouraged to contact them with landowner relations issues. They will help get the proper response including the Warden Service and help with ways to clean up the area. Here is a link to their web site: www.maine.gov/lor/accessing_land.htm.
Rep. Shaw is the representative for part of Standish and serves on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.