The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

June 29, 2014

Price to pay for illegal dumps | Don't toss garbage in state parks, forests

JOHNSTOWN — Much progress has been made by those working to clean trash and debris from our state parks and forest areas.

But the job, it seems, never ends – because we keep dumping our garbage in these otherwise beautiful, natural spaces.

We reported June 22 on clean-up projects in Gallitzin State Forest, where tires and other discarded items had created a headache for staff. The park workers were also repairing vandalism and dealing with problems that were so extensive that forester Terry Stemmler declared: “This is the worst that I have ever seen the state forests used as dumping sites and the complete disregard of public property.”

He added: “Our staff spends hundreds of hours cleaning up illegal dump sites, replacing damaged and stolen signs and rehabilitating infrastructures.”

Sadly, such disregard for public property can be found in parks and forest areas all over Pennsylvania.

Terry Brady, deputy press secretary with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the state spends more than $180,000 per year cleaning up unlawful dump sites.

“It’s a recurring problem,” Brady said from his Harrisburg office.

This dark cloud of indifference does have a silver lining.

Back in 2000, Brady said, the state was burning through $1.5 million annually to dispose of people’s trash.

That’s about the time the statewide Forest Lands Beautification Program was launched.

“At that time, we had some landscapes where if you looked out across a valley it was nothing but old refrigerators and what-not,” Brady said.

So while the landscape has improved, there are still people who think tossing something in the woods is a better option than taking that same item to a recycling sta-tion or putting it in a trash bin.

Especially in secluded areas of our state forests, workers frequently find themselves hauling away large, heavy televisions, tires and construction debris such as roofing materials.

Shingles are a particular problem, Brady noted.

“We’re not generally talking about contractors (doing the discarding),” he said. “This is more the home do-it-yourself types.”

While DCNR and state forestry folks are picking up all sorts of debris, tires are frequent offenders, Brady said.

They were the primary culprit in the northern Somerset County area of the Gallitzin State Forest, where more than 250 tires have been retrieved and must be disposed of – at a cost of about $3,000, our Kathy Mellott reported.

Getting rid of eyesores is part of the problem, Brady said.

Beyond that obvious task, he said state organizations are using time and money that could be better utilized in other ways.

Money spent dragging away and properly disposing of old tires otherwise would have been used on improvement projects and maintenance, Brady said.

“It’s hitting them in their pocketbooks,” he said of the impact on state forests and parks.

In an interview with Mellott, Stemmler agreed.

“Our workload is extremely hectic,” Stemmler said. “The time that the staff has to use to clean up dumps, build and replace signs, pick up tires ... could better be used elsewhere.”

We join Brady in urging our readers to call the authorities when they encounter illegal dumping.

“If someone is out in a forest area and he or she sees a truck with somebody unloading concrete slabs, or a truck dumping trash, please report it,” Brady said. “People who are dumping are stealing from our parks and lands.”

And to those of you who have been tossing your construction waste or old appliances in the woods, we say: Stop it.

Your neighbors are paying the price with their tax dollars.

Get involved

If you witness illegal dumping or encounter an illegal dump site, contact:

-- Pa. Bureau of Forestry, Gallitzin State Forest district office, Ebensburg: 472-1862; or

-- Pa. Bureau of Forestry central office, Harrisburg: 717-787-2703

To learn more about the state Bureau of Forestry, visit:

-- ww.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry

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