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In the News

RETF tools help prevent illegal dumping in counties, cities

Monday, August 01, 2016

The Regional Environmental Task Force (RETF), in its 20 years of operation focused on protecting the environment through awareness and enforcement activities, offers a range of resources and tools that can assist communities in the 10-county CAPCOG region to curtail illegal dumping and catch violators who still do it.

One of the most used and effective tools are road signs purchased by the RETF, said Mike Bittner, Caldwell County code enforcement officer. Setting up the signs brings awareness to illegal dumping in trouble areas and provides an avenue for witnesses to report incidents.  “The signs help in a number of ways,” according to Dennis Rudder, a sergeant investigator with the Travis County Attorney’s Office Environmental Crimes Unit and founding member of the RETF. “One way is just by educating people that they shouldn’t be dumping their trash.”

Caldwell County has placed 70 signs along county roadways and bridges; the area surrounding the signs have experienced about a 75 percent decline in illegal dumping, according to Bittner. Signs also were used by Travis County in a large, unfinished subdivision on South Imperial Drive after a massive volunteer cleanup effort removed a lot of illegally dumped trash. “Illegal dumping was a huge problem in that area,” Rudder said. “The paved roads gave people easy access to the site, so large piles of trash started to build up.” Eventually, the piles could have polluted the Colorado River waterway since the subdivision sits in the floodplain, but after the area was cleaned, the signs prevented further illegal dumping.

The use of one the RETF’s 10 HD-digital-video cameras requires a bit more time and effort, but they are extremely useful when collecting evidence of environmental crimes. Ken May, CAPCOG’s Director or Regional Services but formerly in charge of solid waste programs at TCEQ explains that cameras, which can be checked out by enforcement personnel whose jurisdiction is in the CAPCOG region, are constantly in use throughout the region, assisting in recording what happens at illegal dumpsites, and their video can be used as evidence leading to ticketing or prosecuting people who commit environmental crimes.

In one case, cameras were used to catch a man illegally dumping and burning materials after he would steal copper wiring from buildings. “We caught this guy acting like Tarzan, banging on his chest and swinging stuff around, as he was throwing this stuff into the fire,” Rudder said. That video helped convict the man for stealing the copper piping and his environmental crimes.

For Bittner, the best tool the RETF provides is an intangible one: the continuing education of code and law enforcement officers.

CAPCOG organizes four environmental law training courses for code and law enforcement officers every year — three beginner courses and one intermediate course. Local governments across the state send representatives to attend the RETF’s courses, which can be taught outside of CAPCOG upon request. In recent years, RETF instructors taught three courses in Beeville, Rockport and Eagle Pass. Each course instructed about 25 officers from the Costal Bend and Middle Rio Grande regions. Attendees learn the difference between civil and criminal environmental crimes as well as how to investigate, prepare case reports and what is needed to prosecute the crimes. Many officers who attended the training have recommended it to others and requested additional, more specific environmental law courses such as developing case reports for environmental violations. CAPCOG is investigating offering such courses.

“The instruction I got through the task force was immeasurable,” Bittner said. “Because I am a code enforcement officer, it gave me a law enforcement perspective, too. Knowing the proper law enforcement procedures allows me to work with peace officers and help put cases together.”

Having staff complete the intermediate course gives a jurisdiction an environmental law expert who becomes a powerful resource for protecting the public’s health, welfare and safety from environmental crimes and prevents the need for expensive clean-ups by local governments.

List of RETF tools:

Environmental Law Training — Annually, the RETF offers four courses on environmental law geared for sanitarians, code enforcement, and peace officers. CAPCOG also added an environmental law segment to its basic peace officers course.

Environmental Enforcement Guide — This small pocket sized  guide contains information on Texas environmental laws. It is published by Pocket Press and can be ordered on its website.

10 SPYPOINT Tiny W-3 Cameras — RETF members can check out cameras for conducting surveillance and investigating illegal dump sites and other solid waste crimes.

No Dumping Road Signs — These signs can be put up on county and city roads or common dumping locations. They state the location is under surveillance and provide the 1-877-No-Dumps (663-8677) for witnesses to report illegal dumping.

The 1-877-No-Dumps Hotline — The hotline lets citizens report illegal dumping. All calls are reviewed by the RETF coordinator and directed to the appropriate jurisdiction’s investigator.

RETF Sampling Trailer — The RETF trailer contains all the supplies needed to conduct environmental sampling. It is housed in Travis County but available to any RETF member.

Outreach materials — From posters to magnets to reusable bags to pens, the RETF provides educational materials about the No-Dumps hotline and illegal dumping.

> Learn about the RETF.
> Read about the CAPCOG Solid Waste Program.

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