Sussex County Council was talking trash at its June 18 meeting.
In an effort to draw attention to what they consider a growing problem of discarded refuse on county back roads, council invited the man in charge of trash enforcement to learn more about the statewide TrashStoppers program.
Lt. Michael Costello, who coordinates the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control program, said his 10-person Environmental Crimes Unit has made about 100 arrests and collected nearly $100,000 in fines over the past few years.
After Costello addressed council, officials agreed to provide a link to the program through the county's website at sussexcountyde.gov.
Although the unit gets tips from residents and also finds names and address in discarded trash piles, technology is starting to play a larger role in finding and prosecuting illegal dumpers. Still and video cameras are part of the unit's digital surveillance program set up in the most prolific illegal dump locations in all three of Delaware's counties. “We may take 4,000 to 6,000 images a week in some areas,” Costello said.
Costello said the images collected do not need to show a person dumping trash on the roadside because all that is needed under the law is a legible license plate number. “If we have no other leads – witnesses or an image of a person – we can use registration of the vehicle to go after the owner of the vehicle,” he said. “Actually, we need only one digit of the license plate.”
Catching illegal trash dumpers is only a small part of the unit's duties. They are responsible for all environmental complaints and also respond to environmental hazards.
Costello said the minimum fine for a first offense is $500 and the judge could also order an offender to clean up their mess. A second offense carries a fine of $1,000. A third offense could costs thousands and end up in Superior Court. “And the court is not supposed to suspend any part of the fine,” Costello said.
“Most people do this because it's a convenience,” Costello said. “It's heartbreaking to us.”
People can report illegal trash dumping 24 hours a day at 800-662-8802; more information about TrashStoppers is available at www.dnrec.delaware.gov/whs/awm/enforcement/pages/trashstoppers.aspx.