Trash mars beauty of the desert

Amid the beauty of Mohave County's pristine desert wilderness lies something sinister.

In startling contrast to the cacti, creosote bushes and palo verde that dot the desert floor are huge piles of garbage.

Known as wildcat dumpsites, these huge mounds of waste - dumped illegally - can contain anything from garden-variety of household trash to junk cars, used tires, old batteries, worn-out appliances and even burnt out mobile homes.

Piles of trash - unsightly, unhealthy and costly to remove - also can be found in yards, alleys, county back roads and canyons everywhere in the county.

"I think we should go after these people aggressively," Mohave County District 2 Supervisor Tom Sockwell said of wildcat dumpers.

"I have cleaned up some of these sites.

They are disgusting.

There were 75 throw-away diapers, batteries and old cars that leak oil.

"We should really get tough with the people that are doing this."

Sockwell, whose district includes Bullhead City, Dolan Springs, White Hills, Chloride and Mohave Valley, said motor oil and other hazardous waste seep into the ground, contaminating ground water, surface water and stream beds.

Law enforcement officers should take advantage of the new county ordinance that allows investigators to use evidence found at the dumpsite in court proceedings, he said.

Buster Johnson, whose district includes Lake Havasu City and Golden Valley, said more aggressive action on the part of law enforcement, with help from the public, will be needed to combat the county's trash problem.

"Everyone is responsible," Johnson said.

"If a guy keeps driving by with a load of tires headed for the desert and then drives back with nothing, there is something going on."

Johnson said $20,000 recently was spent to clean up illegally dumped tires in Golden Valley.

Johnson, who was a law enforcement officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office before moving to Mohave County, said police should take the time to check on suspicious activity.

"When I worked the night or swing shift, and there was not much happening, I would go into the canyons and watch for anyone dumping trash," he said.

Johnson said illegal littering is a big problem in rural areas.

"It is not as bad when there are more trash pickups," he said.

"But it is optional here, and people tend not to want to pay for it.

"In California, trash pickup is required."

While Johnson doesn't think much of the ordinance adopted at the beginning of this year allowing county prosecutors to use items found at a dump site in criminal proceedings, he believes law enforcement officers need to investigate more of these crimes.

Mohave County Chief Deputy Attorney Jace Zack said just nine criminal littering cases have come to his office from the Mohave County Sheriff's Office since Jan.

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His office declined one case because a report was not filed.

The eight remaining cases have resulted in two convictions.

Only one of the pending cases - filed just this week - carried a felony charge.

City of Kingman Code Enforcement Officer Carl Allen, the city's "trash cop," said he has issued only two misdemeanor tickets for littering within the city.

Although he is an officer with the Kingman Police Department, Allen rarely uses force or intimidation to get people to clean up their trash within the city.

Instead, Allen works with homeowners about their excess trash, junk vehicles and other eyesores.

"I get about six to 10 calls a week about accumulated junk and trash and dumping in alleys," he said.

"I work with property owners to bring their property into compliance."

Allen said his program has been fairly successful, without burdening the city's legal system.

He added that the city's "Junk Vehicle Removal System" - available to those who can't afford to pay for removal of vehicles - also helps eliminate eyesores from the community.