There were the three bags of asbestos in East Rock Park, the six refrigerators heaped next to the West River, and then the countless mattresses, water heaters, rugs and roofing shingles spotted in the unlikeliest of places.
Trash of every form has been piling up in New Haven’s parks, rivers and wetlands at unprecedented levels in recent months, leading some to accuse the city of lax enforcement of dumping laws.
In the 15 years that Riverkeeper Peter Davis has been scouring the city for trash, he has removed a total of four million pounds. The recent surge in dumping surprises even him. Davis collected 40,000 pounds of trash in October, then 65,000 in November and 70,000 in December. This month, he said, the number will be close to 90,000.
“People are recognizing that it’s reaching a level [where] it’s not something we can just slip under the rug,” said Dan Lorimier, a spokesman for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization.
In the fall of 1994, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. declared a crackdown on illegal dumping. DeStefano set up a hotline explicitly for receiving calls alerting police to illegal dumping and then assigned a full-time detective to investigating dumping complaints.
That detective has since retired, and rather than replace him, the New Haven Police Department plans to assign an officer dedicated to coordinating police efforts in this area.
New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing said in a statement that the job requires more than one person.
“It is the job of every officer on patrol to be vigilant of and enforce illegal dumping laws,” Wearing said. “It isn’t effective in dealing with quality of life issues in the long-run, to make prevention or enforcement the responsibility of only one person.”
But Ward 9 Alderman John Halle recently wrote a letter to Wearing complaining about what he sees as a serious lack of enforcement.
“You’re basically inviting people into the city with copious opportunities for dumping,” Halle said.
Halle said that surrounding areas are increasing their enforcement of dumping laws and as a result New Haven is becoming a greater target.
Illegal dumping is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine, which was increased last October to $199. A state statute allows the police to arrest any person caught dumping and impound his or her car.
“The problem has never gone away,” said Jackie Pernell, the case investigator for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. “If they increase [the fine] again next year, it’d be okay by me.”
Pernell, the sole investigator of illegal dumping in the state, said the dumping is concentrated in the state’s urban areas.
“It’s mind-boggling that people don’t think and do what they want to do and not think how it impacts something else,” Pernell said.
In Connecticut, Pernell said, 22 citations were handed out and 44 cases were investigated in the past 10 months.
“I think we have to enforce the laws and send a message: this is not going to be tolerated,” Davis said.
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