First of three-part series <BR>Talking Trash: Mohave County is full of it, and the problem just keeps getting bigger
It is everywhere: In our canyons, open areas, streets, vacant lots and our back yards.
It is blowing in the wind, and resting in illegal dumpsites throughout the county.
It is one of Mohave County's biggest problems and if something isn't done about the situation soon, it could become Mohave County's worst nightmare, according to local residents, public officials and environmentalists.
Mohave County District I Supervisor Pete Byers calls the situation, "mind-boggling," but said the county is limited in the ways it can respond.
"The county received 2,500 complaints last year regarding trash in the county," Byers said.
"It is the county's biggest problem, the one I spend most of my time on.
The problem really needs to be addressed this year."
As well as being an eyesore, piles of trash everywhere create a fire danger, a health risk and a multitude of other problems.
"The trash is a health risk attracting bugs, rodents and snakes," Byers said.
The problem also involves several governmental agencies, he added, including the sheriff's office, fire department, planning and zoning and the environmental health department.
Byers also wants state laws to help address the problem.
"New legislation at the state level needs to be introduced, he added.
"The state Legislature better wake up and do something before it starts getting into our water."
The problem is a complicated one, made more difficult by the fact that Mohave County is spread out, with many county residents living outside cities where trash pick-up is mandatory.
This leads to illegal 'wildcat' dumping on county back roads, Byers said.
"We have miles and miles to clean.
Mohave County has 12,000 square miles, and much of it is outside city limits.
But we can accomplish something," he said.
"The problem is the county doesn't have the money, or the authority, to put a trash can at every house, or to force residents to dispose of trash properly."
In residential neighborhoods the problem is especially acute north of Kingman's city limit in Butler, and in what Byers calls the "new-Kingman addition," east of Castle Rock Road.
"We can't make trash pickup mandatory," he said.
"I have no way of doing it in the county."
Nancy Rutherford would like to do something about it.
"People throw their trash everywhere.
Trash pick-up is not mandatory and people think they can leave their garbage anywhere," Rutherford said.
"One resident has started to dump trash in the back of his pick-up truck and it is blowing all around."
About a year ago Rutherford's daughter and four children moved from Minnesota into a home in Butler owned by Rutherford and her husband.
"My daughter pays for a trash service," she said.
"If a single mom with four kids can afford it - about $21 every two months - so can other residents.
Abandoned vehicles and trash piled high are common sights in Butler, and no one seems to care."
Rutherford drafted a petition asking for mandatory trash service in Butler and then met with Byers to discuss the problem, but Byers said mandatory trash pick-up in unincorporated areas of the county is not an option.
"There is actually a law that prohibits me from forming an improvement district to pick up trash," he said.
"The county roads department can't be used for trash removal - only if the trash is in the right-of-way."
Byers said the county is taking some action - including removal of about 15 burnt-out and abandoned mobile homes in the county.
"We are using a little money from the $2 county tipping fee customers pay when they use the county landfill," he said.
"It was allocated to do something about wildcat dumping."
But the problem is twofold: how to rid the county of tons of trash and how to prevent and discourage wildcat dumping.
"We can go in and clean up an area, and we have done that," he said.
"But a few months later it is back to the way it was."
Walter 'Mac' McCarty, a Mohave County volunteer, began patrolling the back roads of the county for illegal dumpsites in May.
He said he has seen "tons of trash" - including burnt mobile homes, appliances, furniture and household trash - dumped on public and private lands throughout the county.
McCarty, who is a Sheriff's Citizen Action Team (SCAT) member, said he was required to attend classes for the volunteer position.
He uses a Mohave County Sheriff's Office vehicle and camera, he said, but has no authority to arrest or even approach anyone, even if he sees someone dumping trash.
"When I see an illegal dump site I photograph it and write up a report," he said.
"Then I go through it to see if I can find a name.
I've turned in 75 reports."
He said illegal dumping is hard to prosecute because in many cases it is people moving out of the county who commit the crime.
A name found in the trash is a connection to the dumpsite, but does not guarantee a littering conviction, said Mohave County chief deputy attorney Jace Zack.
This frustrates McCarty, who said to his knowledge not one of the dumpsites he reported on and submitted to the sheriff's office has been prosecuted.
"The problem is that finding someone's name in trash does not prove that the person dumped the trash," Zack explained.
"Owners of illegal trash often claim in their defense that someone they had hired to remove the trash dumped it."
Zack said he has prosecuted some cases, but the way the state law is written makes it difficult.
However, a proposed ordinance, that is much stronger and augments the state law, would make owners of the illegally-dumped trash solely responsible for their garbage, no matter who dumped it.
"It will give us more leeway in prosecuting," he said.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 9:30 a.m.
Zack, who has been a member of the Wildcat Dumping Task Force for two years, said there is no silver bullet to the trash problem in the county, but steps are being taken.
"It is a nasty crime and anyone who gets caught will be prosecuted," he said.
"We take it very seriously."
Illegal dumping is a class one misdemeanor, and perpetrators could receive up to six months in jail or a $2,500 fine.
If the trash weighs more than 300 pounds the crime is considered a felony, he said.
Environmental activist Jack Ehrhardt said all Mohave County residents need to get serious about waste management.
"The time is now," he said.
"There is a lot that can be done, but we can't keep waiting for someone else to do it."
Ehrhardt recently attended an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality meeting detailing recycling and trash clean up programs.
Part II of this series will include information about what the city and county and community groups are doing about the trash problem.
Part III includes recycling information.