Highlandtown gears up for assault on trash, illegal dumping

Written by on September 17, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments

Highlandtown is apparently the neighborhood that everyone likes to dump on, but residents aren’t going to take it anymore.

Monday night, the Highlandtown Community Association invited representatives from the Department of Public Works as well as Baltimore Housing to explain their roles in mitigating and preventing illegal dumping, and the association discussed some prevention strategies of its own.

“Maybe we can pull together something of a plan for preventing dumping on the front-side rather than just cleaning it up on the backside, because we’re spending a lot of tax dollars,” mused Brian Sweeney, HCA president.

Maria Bhatti and Brandi Welsh, community liaisons with DPW, outlined some steps their department is taking against dumping. An official letter from DPW will be sent to addresses within a Highlandtown target area, informing residents, in English and Spanish, of the proper means of disposing of their trash.

Welsh said that one part of the message is “Get one of these, or get one of these.” The first “these” refers to a trash can, the second to a citation.

It’s not just about educating residents.

“We’ve also been told that some DPW crews aren’t doing the right thing, and we definitely need to address that,” Welsh said.

She was referring to “staging,” a prohibited trash collecting practice in which workers arrive at a block before the truck arrives, remove the all the trash bags from their cans, and pile them in a central location for easy pick-up upon the truck’s arrival.

The problem with trash staging, Welsh said, is that it leads neighbors to think, ”Oh we know the trash guys are going to put it here, so we’ll take our trash and put it right here.”

Late pickup for bulk items can cause similar problems, said resident Mark Parker, pastor of Breath of God Lutheran Church. He noted that several acquaintances who had requested pick-up for bulk trash items found that the arranged pick up time had come and gone and the items were still in the alley.

DPW’s response was “Somebody really messed up; we’re really backed up; it’ll be gone in a week,” Parker said. From other residents, the response was “Oh, this is where we dump stuff,” and the pile grew.

Parker also relayed an experience he had had with a sanitation inspector. When 311 was called to complain about residents putting out trash in bags without cans, the inspector, according to Parker, said that citations aren’t given on trash day, because circumstances beyond residents’ control—wind blowing away trash can lids, for example—often occur.

The problem with that policy, Parker pointed out, is that residents who put out trash without cans typically only do so on trash day, so that is the only opportunity to put a stop to that behavior.
Shirley Edmond, Assistant Supervisor of Code Enforcement, said that her department does not cite for missing lids, because they do often blow away. However, she said, “if you put trash bags out alone, we’re going to cite you,” whether or not it’s trash day.

She added that citations are given for overflowing cans.

The problem of trash bags without cans, which attract rats, came up several times during the meeting.

Sweeney asked the DPW liaisons if there was a way for the city to give trashcans to residents that don’t have them.

Welsh replied that DPW does not currently give away trash cans, though there is a “municipal can pilot program” currently underway in the Bel Air Edison and Mondawin neighborhoods in which residents are given large green trash cans with attached lids. The cans also have microchips embedded in them, Welsh said, which cuts down on trash-can theft.

“It’s working pretty well in those areas,” she said.

Sweeney asked if there was a way to get the pilot program in Highlandtown, and Welsh suggested that residents could email DPW Director Rudolph Chow, rudolph.chow@baltimorecity.gov, and request to be added to the pilot program.

At one point in the conversation, Evan Helfrich, a lawyer who prosecutes code violations for Baltimore Housing, noted that it is the property owners—not the tenants—who are responsible for providing trash cans for a residence. Hence, he said, “I can’t afford a trash can” is not really a valid argument, except for elderly homeowners.

As for preventing illegal dumping on the front end, Helfrich noted that Baltimore Housing has recently activated a “special investigations unit” equipped with cameras that can be moved to different problem areas to get dumpers’ license plate numbers and vehicle information.

“It’s been working pretty well,” he said, adding that once the dumpers are identified, criminal charges may be field.

Helfrich said that the bulk of violation notices he issues are n response to complaints that come through the city’s 311 system, which he advised residents to use.

He also encouraged residents to reach out to the landlords of problematic properties. When some residents noted that finding a landlord for a specific property can be quite difficult, Helfrich said that the city has a property registration system, and are required to give property owners’ contact information to residents of the same block, if requested.

by Erik Zygmont

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