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Illegal dumping increasing in Lehigh
August 7, 2019

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Lehigh Acres continues to have a problem with illegal dumping and illegal dumpsites.

Lee County Solid Waste Division spokesperson Molly Schweers said 79 percent of the illegal dumping they are seeing is occurring in Lehigh Acres.

Although it has been an ongoing problem, it ramped up a year ago when the number of dump sites increased, she said.

"It's a lot of mixed material," Schweers said. "Sometimes people are cleaning out a house and a small construction site, so they are leaving a bunch of things on the side of the road."

For fiscal year 2017-2018 the dump site costs in Lehigh Ares Right Away (trash along roadways in the Right of Way) by Lee County Solid Waste was 518 total dump sites for an annual cost of $82,286.16. For fiscal year 2018-2019 (through June) is 627 total dump sites for an annual cost through June of $149,686.69, which includes $3,520 for increase Sheriff's Office patrols in Lehigh Acres.

Lee County Code Enforcement deals with dumpsites found on private property.

The dumpsites tend to be found at dead end roads with a higher concentration in the eastern area of Lehigh Acres.

"Any place to get in and out without getting seen is very popular," Schweers said.

If someone is spotted actively dumping, a picture needs to be taken and a 9-1-1 call needs to be made. If someone comes across a dumpsite where no one is actively dumping, a call to Lee County Solid Waste needs to be made at (239) 533-8000.

"We are certainly trying to catch people who are actively dumping, but usually we just find the remains," she said.

In the research that has been done, Schweers said it is becoming rather apparent that people may not know that there is an unlimited set up available to them in Lee County.

"You can put a whole bunch of stuff at the curb no sooner than 24 hours before collection day. You need to have your cans pulled back in no later than 24 hours (of your collection day)," she said. "If you set at the curb on trash day we will come get it."

If residents put such items as a mattress at the curb earlier than that 24-hour period, Schweers said it give kids with dirt bikes and ATVs a chance to take it and devise a makeshift sled out of it and then illegally dump it somewhere.

"Lee County Solid Waste, we take care of that," she said of picking up the mattress when left by the curb in the required window. "People set up stuff outside of their time frame and get it curbed shopped."

Curb shoppers, either by people, or animals, can leave trash on the road, which then liters a neighborhood.

With that said, Schweers said a lot of what they pick up is not trash. For example, she said if you have a dresser, call a charity and have them pick up the item so it can further be used in the community.

The larger trash, set at the curb that is not bagged under a 50 pound weight limit, has to be shorter than six feet long to be picked up due to that measurement being the width of the truck that will pick up the trash.

"One of the Sheriff's camera's caught a guy with a pick-up truck dumping off a water heater. You can set a water heater at the curb. There is no need to illegally dump it," Schweers said.

The residents of Lehigh Acres are becoming involved by calling and reporting what they are seeing. She said improvements of illegal dumping is an "all community effort" with residents saying "this is our community and we don't want it to be a dumping ground."

Construction and demolition material, as well as regular trash can be dropped off at the Resource Recovery Facility, at 10500/10550 Buckingham Road. It's $33 for a ton of construction, demolition and horticulture material and $50 a ton for regular trash to be dumped.

"It's not expensive to dump. It's a lot more expensive to be caught illegally dumping," Schweers said.

Those who dump at the Buckingham facility are weighed at the gate before entering and again when leaving.

"You drive across a scale coming and going out," she said.

Lee County Solid Waste worked with Keep Lee County Beautiful to add some additional focus on illegal dumping in Lehigh Acres during the month of June through a social media campaign.

Keep Lee County Beautiful Facebook page had 4,529 impressions and Instagram had 1,374.

"The media attention lets other people know to call and be proactive," Schweers said. "It does help to let other people know we can report this."

Keep Lee County Beautiful Executive Director Trish Fancher said the campaign shared information on Facebook and Instagram in English and Spanish.

"For us it helped grow our Facebook following. A lot of people responded well to the campaign," she said.

The campaign shared information about the different fines and that illegal dumping is considered a felony.

"Green waste and yard waste is also considered illegal dumping," Fancher said. "It is OK to ask the lawn service company to see a dump ticket. They are responsible to take it out to disposal."

She said if a resident sees something suspicious, such as a trailer backing down a road loaded with stuff, and returning empty, to make a call. Fancher said they are trying to get people aware of what is happening in their own neighborhood while taking pride in where they live.

"They can put furniture and white goods at their curbs; it's part of their taxes. It's not like they are going to be charged an extra fee," she said of the information they shared.

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