Update on effort to curb illegal dumping and cleanup our deserts

FLORENCE - Months after launching a renewed focus on combating illegal desert dumping, the county's efforts are showing some signs of success.

On April 27th, County Attorney Kent Volkmer provided an update to the Board of Supervisors on the county's effort to clean up our deserts. To illustrate the problem, pictures of couches, trash and mattresses were displayed to the Board.

"This is years and years and years of accumulation," Volkmer said.

Volkmer touted the multi-faceted approach to combating the issue, crediting other departments which have played a large role in the renewed focus, including public works, community development, public health, the sheriff's office and county management.

"We're working on it," Volkmer said. "This takes all of us coming together."

Volkmer noted the new county web page which launched late last year, which provides detailed information on how - and where - to properly dispose of old or bulky items. The web page also features the new rewards program, which pays $500 to anyone whose tip leads to charges against a person illegally dumping items in the desert. The web page is a one-stop-shop for all information on community cleanups and illegal dumping deterrence.

Thus far, the rewards program has brought in nearly a dozen tips. Many are too generic to follow-up on, but a couple have been sent to law enforcement for further investigation.

Volkmer touted the many efforts made by the county to cleanup our deserts. According to data from public works, this fiscal year has seen people put in more than 4,400 hours of labor, which has led to the removal of more than 717 tons of debris (think, like, the equivalent of 14,000 couches). The county hosts around 15 community cleanups each year, in addition to 9 free dump days.

Volkmer noted the high cost of community cleanups, which can cost around $25,000 per event in labor and equipment and thus puts limits on how many can occur.

"We made a dent," Volkmer said of countywide efforts to cleanup trash and debris. "This needs to be a sustained, continued effort. If we just stop it now, there will be more trash tomorrow than there was when we started."

Volkmer pushed for more volunteer opportunities to help cleanup the desert and, as the new slogan goes, #KeepPinalPristine.

"We have to change the community's mindset," Volkmer said of those who dump in the desert. "We have to change that mindset. As long as that's the mindset, that they can just dump it, it doesn't matter...who really cares, we're never going to [end] this problem."

Volkmer noted the county will continue efforts to cleanup the desert and curb illegal dumping through hard work, education and partnerships. Through the potential of additional public cleanup events, he expressed a hope the county will reach a point where more debris is being removed from the desert than dumped in it.