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Illegal dumping plagues Swain

Illegal dumping plagues Swain

Swain County recently spent more than $350,000 in order to better secure its trash site and cut down on sanitation department costs, but recent illegal dumping continues to be a costly and time-consuming problem.

The trash and recycling drop-off site on Old U.S. 19 in Bryson City was once open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since September, however, the new trash compactors have been behind a gate. The county now has set hours for people to drop off trash — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays and closed on holidays. 

Waste Management Supervisor Scott Turpin has come to work early in the morning a few times to find a few bags of trash dumped at the gate entrance since the change was made in September, but the problem has been manageable. However, on Monday, Jan. 2, which was a county holiday, county commissioners started receiving calls about the trash piled up outside the gate. 

“People are throwing trash out at the gate — we need to address the issue,” Turpin told commissioners. “Jan. 2 was a holiday but we were open Jan. 1. It’s becoming a serious problem.”

County Manager Kevin King said cameras had been installed at the trash site since Jan. 2 in hopes of preventing that problem in the future.  

“This happens everywhere — when a change in the system takes place it takes time for education,” King said. “The pubic needs to be aware of the schedule. It is considered illegal dumping and that is a state right of way, which is a $1,000 fine, so it’s a violation of our ordinance and a state law violation.”

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Even with the cameras in place, Sheriff Curtis Cochran said those types of violations are hard to prosecute in court. He suggested moving one of the roll off trucks outside the gate on holidays to prevent littering outside the gate.  

“But if we put one outside you’d have everyone throwing out TVs, couches and other stuff they’re not supposed to throw in there,” Turpin said. 

Commissioner David Monteith asked why the county couldn’t hire another person and allow the staff to rotate shifts so that the trash site can be open every day. 

King reminded commissioners that the entire reason the county made this change was to save money. The county received a warning from the state to either increase its sanitation fees or cut costs because the county’s sanitation fund isn’t self-sustaining. Before increasing fees, the county received grants and took out a loan to make these cost-saving upgrades. If the fund doesn’t improve, the state could take over management of the fund and increase rates for customers. 

“Hiring another person would defeat the purpose of doing this, which was to cut our costs,” he said. “The state could come in a manage it and set the rate for us if we don’t do what they say. They say the rate should be $120 a household and we’re at $75.”

Based on the trash dropped off on Jan. 2, staff could guess that most of the dumping was from vacationers heading out of town that Monday. 

King suggested contacting all the cabin rental companies in the area and offering them a free dumpster to keep on site for their guests to prevent illegal dumping at the county site. The county would provide the trash bin for free, but the business would be responsible for paying someone to haul it off to the county site. 

“Most communities require big businesses to have their own dumpster,” King said. 

Commissioner Danny Burns said he hoped it wouldn’t continue to be a huge problem considering the county trash site would only be closed eight days a year. 

“But I don’t think it’s ever going to eliminate the problem completely,” he said.  

Commissioners agreed to continue to monitor the situation and try to educate the public about the site’s new operating hours, which are posted on the gate. 

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