Hall County is growing more urban by the day, but there’s still plenty of wide-open space for litterbugs to have their way.
Dirt roads, undeveloped subdivisions and parks make ideal places to unload everything from furniture to appliances and household trash to vegetation.
“In rural areas, it’s constant,” said Capt. Andre Niles of the Hall County Marshal’s Office. “Illegal dumping is a crime of opportunity.”
And its consequences are not just an eyesore. Polluted creeks and lakes, and rodent infestations, are recurring problems.
“Now, we’re starting to find things that are dangerous to the public,” Niles said.
For those tasked with keeping Hall County clean, litter is a burden with no end, a fight that cannot be won, only fought.
And it’s this time of year when officials prep for the big reveal.
“When these leaves start falling off these trees ...” Niles said, trailing off when considering the monumental “surge” in trash he’s likely to see in the coming months.
The cycle of dumping works like this: Spring cleaning sends out the trash. Summer vegetation hides it from view. Fall begins to expose its scope. And the dead of winter puts it on full display.
There is no unique profile to those who illegally dump their trash alongside roadways or behind strip malls, for example.
It could be a homeowner on Lake Lanier who, after a day of yard work, discards grass clippings and tree limbs on undeveloped property.
Or it could be residents of low-income neighborhoods disposing of trash illegally in dumpsters behind businesses.
But if there’s a single attribute officials recognize in everyone they catch, it’s laziness.
“These are sorry people,” said Gary Kansky, Gainesville’s code enforcement manager. “There’s no cause for it.”
Littered by numbers
Hall County makes no distinction between littering and illegal dumping.
“Litter is litter, wherever it is put,” county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said.
In the last 12 months, the county had 257 cases, about half of which would be considered dumping on the property of another or county property and the remainder improperly storing their own household trash.
Gainesville, meanwhile, tagged 238 littering violations and 39 illegal dumping violations over the past year, but issued just 15 citations.
These citations come with hundreds of dollars in fines and requirements that violators pick up their trash.
Kansky said he tries to work with those he catches, and will sometimes dismiss a citation if violators agree to clean up their mess.
Of course, sometimes people escape justice.
Hall County and Gainesville track all complaints about litter, conduct investigations and surveillance, and regularly patrol locations that are notorious dumping grounds.
But sometimes taxpayers are left to bear the cost of cleanup, particularly as violators learn the methods officials use to track them down.
“They get smart,” Nile said, explaining that violators either learn their lesson or learn how to skirt law.
Moreover, property owners can be held accountable if their land is being used as a dump site.
Hotspots and common finds
A road cut for an undeveloped subdivision makes for an easy place to dump trash and get away unnoticed.
Such is the case along Mundy Mill Road, where a nondescript future subdivision entrance has become one of the most common sites for dumping in Gainesville.
Stuffed animals and broken plastic toys, fencing and trash bags full of discarded food and other household goods line the end of the road.
Baker Road, a dirt track in unincorporated Hall County, is also a notorious hotspot for dumpers. So much so, in fact, that Niles said some people have come searching for used refrigerators and furniture to haul off and repurpose.
There are several apartment complexes along Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville where residents have been known to chuck trash from their balconies down a steep, vegetated embankment.
Car tires and mattresses are regular sights along Browns Bridge Road, Tulip Drive and McEver Lake Road, according to officials.
Kansky said he’s cited violators that he discovered dumping in the same location for years, hauling trash deep enough into a wooded area to escape detection for so long.
“They hit the parks pretty hard,” he added.
Another aspect of the problem involves not so much intent to illegally dump as the lack of understanding about county and city codes.
For example, Niles said, residents piling up debris on county right-of-way following an ice storm in February proved to cause massive confusion.
If the debris had been cut and placed there by power companies, for example, the county would haul it away.
Disposing of brush from the backyard or shingles from the roof, however, was the homeowners’ responsibility.
So what’s the strangest item ever seen dumped? For Niles, it’s a car driven into a hole in attempt to avoid having it repossessed.
For Kansky, it’s a “full” toilet on the side of the road.
Remedies to the problem
While officials acknowledge that littering and illegal dumping will not magically cease, limiting its scope and impact begins with education.
That’s why community groups like Keep Hall Beautiful host litter patrol and cleanup events at local parks, streams and lakes each year.
There are also special days annually where the county scraps its dump fees, or recycling events where residents can dispose of their Christmas trees for free.
Finally, the county dump accepts a variety of trash at reasonable costs, officials said, and the city provides curbside trash pickup. Compactor sites even stay open on many holidays when other government services are closed.
“There’s no excuse” with these options available, Niles said.