Illegal Dump

Mattresses and other garbage can be seen at an illegal dump site along Route 271 in Conemaugh Township on Thursday.

Kathy Semelsberger knows well the struggle to combat illegal dumping. As Susquehanna Township secretary, she fields complaints and concerns. But it affects her on a personal level, too.

The more than 140 acres she owns in Elder Township are scenic, sprawling land – but they also are a common target for less responsible folks who toss mattresses, tires and other debris in the woods.

“It’s a nightmare,” she said.

“They just dump it and leave, and it’s just a mess – nonstop. Winter is worst. They’ll leave deer carcasses, too.”

On her property, Semelsberger is going to try gating some areas.

Another local effort, which the township may qualify for, would put cameras at illegal dump sites to catch perpetrators, day or night.

With a grant through the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Lift Johnstown and Keep PA Beautiful will work together on a hidden camera program, which would loan grantees a surveillance camera kit. Those would be placed at undisclosed illegal dumping hot spots throughout Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties.

Each kit includes three concealable, lockable cameras and wireless technology that can capture footage of license plates and dumpers – even at night – and alert authorities instantly with a text message. An information meeting, open to the public, is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Windber Community Building.

Foundation President Mike Kane said the program addresses an unsightly – and widespread – problem. In Cambria County alone, a 2010 survey by PA CleanWays and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful showed 203 dumpsites with an estimated 254.13 tons of trash.

About 87 percent of those sites were in rural areas.

“You could ask ‘Why is the Community Foundation involved in this?’ ” Kane said.

“It is our mission to convene the community around issues that directly affect our communities. The opportunity provided by Keep PA Beautiful to address this problem locally is something we’re very interested in advancing. In the past, we have funded illegal dump inventories and even cleanups.

“We’re hoping to continue with this initiative.”

Investigating illegal dumping crimes is time-consuming and labor-intensive for both state and local governments, with each site costing $619 per ton for an average total of $2,947 to remediate, according to research by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

Kris Howdyshell, executive director of Cambria County Solid Waste Authority, said authority members have considered surveillance cameras in the past – but it was cost-prohibitive.

“Surveillance cameras are definitely going to be a positive influence on the amount of dumping that goes on,” he said.

“People realize that they're not supposed to be dumping in a given area or that they’re doing something improper. In a lot of regards, getting caught and having it known publicly that they’re doing dumping will be a big deterrent.”

Howdyshell, who is planning to attend the meeting Tuesday, said the problem is not limited to rural areas.

“When we did the (survey), almost every municipality had some sort of illegal dump,” he said. “A lot are rural but we get them in the urban settings, too, in a vacant lot or an empty industrial space. It’s not just a rural problem.”

The Cambria County survey showed that Reade Township had 17 illegal dumpsites, more than any other municipality.

Susquehanna Township, though, had the highest volume of estimated trash at 13.625 tons in 13 total sites.

The authority’s website, cambriarecycles.org, offers links to both report illegal dumping and information on how to dispose of bulky items.

Kecia Bal is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at @KeciaBKay