By Tabitha Mueller
“This is an item that just never seems to go away. It’s unbelievable to me.”
Those were the comments from County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung as Chief Deputy Greg Herrera from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office prepared to present an update on illegal dumping at the Washoe County Commissioners meeting Nov. 12.
Herrera described illegal dumping as an “epidemic” and discussed how the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office regularly receives phone calls about abandoned vehicles and trash piles on Washoe County’s rural, off-road locations. The calls are most frequently, but not exclusively, for sites in the Sun Valley area.
Officers have made a litany of arrests and citations for illegal dumping. The list included a mother and son caught dumping garbage behind the LDS church and a man who left two vehicles on Old North Virginia Street, along with a third vehicle in a different location.
Herrera also told the board about three stacked vehicles on the side of a road which “received national attention on the Seth Meyer’s show and was used as a punch line insinuating that this was typical parallel parking in New York City.” He chuckled wryly at the incident, but then became more serious as he continued.
“Now, while we all try to maintain a good sense of humor, as you can see, this is no laughing matter. For this location, this picture clearly shows the danger for this community as well as any children who may have been innocently playing in the area.”
Vehicle dumping an “epidemic”
Although the Sheriff’s office’s statistics on illegal dumping indicate incidents of trash dumping have been consistent with past numbers and even display a recent decrease, instances of vehicle dumping have increased dramatically.
The increase in vehicle dumping could be correlated with decreased scrap metal prices, the high cost of legitimate disposal, and Nevada’s non-titling policy that makes it difficult to find and hold vehicle owners accountable, according to Herrera.
The illegal dumping of vehicles has taken a toll on local law enforcement, who lack the time and resources to properly address the high rate of dumping.
“[Abandoned vehicles are] obviously a major-quality-of-life [issue] for residents. These vehicles contain gasoline and other dangerous fluids,” said Herrera, adding, “they attract further damage in parts stripping, they attract children to play in and around the vehicles. And obviously dumped vehicles attract more trash and dumped vehicles.”
Multiple solutions offered
Herrera acknowledged solutions to the problem are not clear-cut. He said the Sheriff’s Office is partnering with county managers, code enforcement, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, the cities of Reno and Sparks, and Waste Management to look for funding sources and public outreach solutions to curb the problem.
The Sheriff’s Office also plans to address the titling issue during the next legislative session.
Commissioner Jeanne Herman offered a potential solution for abandoned vehicles. “Back when we were negotiating [with Waste Management,] I suggested…to get the availability of land for a dump where people instead of hauling [vehicles] somewhere that’s illegal, they could haul them to that dump…So I’m just thinking that maybe we should be working towards finding something like that and having a place where they can legally bring it.”
Commissioner Bob Lucey echoed Herman. He recommended the Sheriff’s Office secure franchise fees from Waste Management per the County’s contract with the company.
Commissioner Hartung suggested a different approach.
“I think you should do a show. And you should shame the people that you catch dumping publicly with their names and their photographs, [along with] their mug shots,” he said. “It’s just that very, very small fraction of people who do this, and it’s amazing the amount that you see from this small fraction.… It’s not relegated to one particular area or one district,” he said.
Currently the Sheriff’s Office publicizes illegal dumping arrests on Facebook and according to Herrera, “The public’s definitely tired of [illegal dumping], and favors actions that we’re taking in [the public] arena.” He also noted the County Manager’s Office is “working towards providing some of those franchise fees.”
The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office asked members of the public to report illegal dumping via the non-emergency dispatch number 785-WCSO or the Washoe County Sheriff’s Service app for smartphones.
Tabitha Mueller is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist based out of Reno, Nevada. She is fascinated by storytelling, place, and the intersection of narrative and data analysis and holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography and English and American Literatures from Middlebury College. When she is not tracking down a story or listening to podcasts, you can find her hiking Nevada’s gorgeous terrain, perusing local bookstores, playing Quidditch, and discovering Reno’s hidden stories.