Illegal trash dumping plagues Johnson County’s remote areas
Tony Hartador has a wonderful view of fields filled with blooming wildflowers and timbers choked with summer foliage as he blades dirt roads in northwest Johnson County. Unfortunately, that's not all Hartador sees from the cab of his maintainer.
"We get all kinds of things in the ditches," he said. "I've seen divans, stoves, tires, refrigerators, brush just about anything."
Household appliances and furnishings are among the items most regularly discarded in county easements, said Betsy Betros, director of the pollution control division of the Johnson County Environmental Department. And the secluded, but easily accessed roads west of De Soto were a popular dumping place, she said.
"People are very creative in that respect," she said. "Roadside dumping is always prevalent on the more remote roads."
County public works employees like Hartador were required to report dump sites, Betros said. It then becomes the environmental and public works departments shared task to remove the debris.
The environmental department picks up used motor oil, paint and other household hazardous materials, while the public works department hauls off trash left by the roadside.
"We probably spend four hours a week or more with a crew out hauling stuff off," said Johnson County road supervisor Bob Henry. "It's a big problem. That's time we could spend on the roads.
"We get a lot thrown off bridges. That's even worse, because there's the potential to contaminate the water supply."
The motivation for roadside dumping was simple, Henry said: People are too cheap to pay to dispose of the materials at landfills, he said.
Enforcement is difficult, Betros and Henry said. It is rare when a rural resident or sheriff's deputy will catch someone in the act, they said. Betros said the guilty party could sometimes be traced through letters, bills or other documents.
The county doesn't fine individuals found to be responsible for illegal dumping, Betros said. Instead, it requires they clean up the mess.
That wouldn't have been the case three years ago had the county nabbed the person or persons responsible for discarding dangerous pharmaceutical lab chemicals along Prairie Center Road in the east-central part of the county.
"The brown bottles never actually leaked," she said. "Unfortunately, we never identified the person responsible for that."
There is no reason for county residents to dump household hazardous materials in ditches, Betros said. The county operates a collection site at which county residents can get rid of paint, lawn chemicals, solvents, insecticides and other household hazardous materials at no charge, she said. Appointments can be made by calling (913) 492-0402, she said.
Most Johnson County cities have city-wide cleanup periods during which residents can dispose of many of the articles that find their way into ditches or creeks, Betros said. That has helped reduce the problem, but she said some trash was imported.
"We assume much of the dumping along State Line Road is done by Missouri residents," she said.
With its easy access from Kansas Highway 10, the illegal dumping in the northwest part of the county may have originated in other counties or states, Betros said.