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Fed up with litterers, city installs surveillance cams

Dumpers making cameos may find some fines in their futures

Posted: May 16, 2012 - 12:02am  |  Updated: May 16, 2012 - 7:02am
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New and old signs posted along Montana Creek Road.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
New and old signs posted along Montana Creek Road.

Litterers, beware. The city is no longer willing to pick up after you.

Think of 2012 as the year that broke the camel’s back, says George Schaaf, the city’s Park and Landscape Superintendent.

Maybe it was the deer carcasses in the middle of a parking lot. Could have been was the live clams, which were thrown in the street around the same time there were reports of paralytic shellfish poisoning. Perhaps it was the endless supply of tires, refrigerators and sofas at Montana Creek Drive.

“It’s just demoralizing,” Schaaf said, adding, “It started out as here’s another year, another pile of trash. Our guys have to go take care of it again. There’s got to be something we can do.”

So he did. Schaaf recently reached into his department’s budget and with his boss’ approval purchased several portable, battery-powered trail cameras for a couple hundred dollars each. He installed them last month at various popular dump sites to catch litterers in the act.

At least six people have been caught and ticketed so far, he says.

Lead Community Services Officer for the Juneau Police Department Bob Dilley says that’s the most they’ve ever issued in a year’s time.

“The cameras seem to be very effective in figuring out who it was,” Dilley said, noting the cameras are picking up license plate numbers.

The most recent catch was two weeks ago when a blue Chevy flare side pickup dumped a bedload full of tires in front of the shipping container on Montana Creek, right in front of one of the trail cameras.

It was too dark in the evening for the camera to pick up a plate number, but the truck was so distinguishable, Schaaf recognized it later when he was driving about town. He called police, who issued a citation punishable by up to $200.

When asked about privacy concerns, Schaaf said his staff only looks through the video footage when his staff finds litter at a specific place.

“We go and look at it when there’s reason to,” Schaaf said. “So if somebody dumps a sofa, we go pull the chip and find out who dumped the sofa. We all have a lot better things to do than to sit and look at all the hours of footage that actually come through.”

Schaaf added that Juneau is not the only city to go to extremes to target litterers.

“It turns out there’s communities all over the country doing the same thing,” he said. “The state of Delaware has a grant program that funds the purchase of cameras statewide, and they put them over dump sites.”

Juneau has a multitude of popular dump sites, Schaaf and Dilley said, including in North Douglas, Sunshine Cove, Shane Drive, Allen Court and near the university.

Schaaf says he intends on moving the cameras to various spots so they won’t be in one place too long.

“Wherever we have a problem, we can put them,” he said.

The most frequent items discarded are household trash, yard waste and furniture, he says. The deer carcasses, which are usually skinned and gutted, are an annual staple found when the snow melts.

“It wears on you after a while,” Schaaf said. “A lot of it is disgusting stuff.”

But the gross factor isn’t the only reason for the cameras. The cost of paying to pick up the trash is.

Schaaf estimates the city spends about $10,000 a year in picking up the garbage in staff time, equipment and dumping fees.

“We pay the dump, just like everybody else,” he said.

It cost approximately $5,000 to clean up the Montana Creek Road area two weeks ago, he said. It took three days, as well as a Bobcat and three large trucks to get all the garbage out of there, he said.

Schaaf speculates most people are trying to get out of paying dumping fees when they litter. It costs about $25 to go to the dump, which Dilley says beats getting a $200 ticket.

“It doesn’t cost that much to go to the dump,” Dilley said.

There ares also recycling centers that take metal and other materials the dumps do not accept, Dilley added.

The city has many anti-littering ordinances that all fall under Code 36.30, which prohibits littering in public places, parks, lakes and fountains, throwing litter from vehicles and aircraft and littering on vacant lots, to name a few. State statute also prohibits littering and can carry up to a $1,000 fine.

Schaaf said the burden of picking up rubbish was keeping his staff, which is up to a dozen in the summer, from doing the work they do best.

“It takes them away from maintaining ball fields, repairing playground equipment, the things that most people think would be important for a park maintenance department,” he said. “But you have to have four guys spending two days picking up trash, nothing else is getting done.”

Now with the cameras installed, the superintendent says his staff, as well the Public Works Department staff which also picks up the garbage, feels more empowered.

“That’s been the best part,” he said. “They feel, I think, empowered, like it’s not a losing battle and that the people are being held responsible.”

He added, “As good as that is, the ultimate goal is for it to just stop. We don’t want to have to have cameras. We don’t to have to deal with dumping. Hopefully, people will just be responsible and take their trash to the dump like they should.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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