A renewed effort to curb illegal dumping in Lakeland acknowledges that property owners are often victims and seeks their cooperation in cleaning the properties.
A five-prong approach to combatting illegal dumping was presented to city commissioners at a workshop Feb. 28 by Brian Rewis, assistant director of Community and Economic Development.
Commissioners gave a unanimous thumbs-up to proceed with his recommendations.
Rewis told commissioners that much of the dumping is in the northwest quadrant of the city, including the Parker Street and John Cox neighborhoods.
“They are rife with absentee ownership, vacant, unimproved properties, and to a large degree neighborhood resident apathy,” Rewis said. “A lot of the people simply don’t report, don’t call, don’t notice. They’ve got their own lives to worry about, so when these things happen they happen very quickly, and then the person who dumped the stuff is long gone, and then we the neighborhood and the city are left to react to that.”
Rewis discussed the reasons people illegally dump, which include the expense of legal disposal and the opportunities provided by vacant land where people can get in and out undetected after dumping.
The problem is exacerbated by property-owner neglect, which aids the illegal dumping and which could be mitigated by tending to the property.
“We’re not saying property owners aren’t victims,” Rewis said. “They absolutely are. We’re just going to fashion a recommendation that gets to partnering with them to try and combat this problem and incentivize their cooperation with perhaps some mitigation of the penalties that could be prescribed or imposed.”
To more effectively address the problem, Rewis made five recommendations.
• Increased patrol and awareness
• Public engagement and signage
• Physical arrest for those caught dumping
• Continue to cite property owner but dismissed or discounted assessment for first-time offender/victim with completed countermeasures
• Strategic acquisition and redevelopment where appropriate
Rewis emphasized the effort to work with property owners who didn’t do the dumping but are still responsible for what’s on the property by asking them to trim trees and mow lawns.
“If you help us by making your property less attractive to that dumper, we will in turn recommend relieving you of that assessment, based on their history,” Rewis said. “We are absolutely sympathetic to that property owner victim.”
Commissioner Stephanie Madden suggested a reward for neighbors who catch a dumper in the act.
Commissioner Phillip Walker recounted a property full of spare tires that had been cleaned up and returned to its problematic state because it was wooded.
He also mentioned a case where someone had dumped rotting meat on a city street. “Some business just dumped meat and it sat there for several days, and it was awful,” he said. “They need to be charged, dumping their meat on the street.”
Commissioner Sara McCarley inquired about a “Keep Lakeland Beautiful” campaign, if one exists, and Commissioner Scott Franklin asked if the city has scheduled clean ups, referring to when his Rotary Club would clean a couple of times a year on Bartow Highway, which he said hasn’t been done in years.
“We’ve never not promoted doing that,” Rewis said. “It’s probably not as dramatic as unilaterally decided they’re not going to do it anymore. Somebody leaves or moves and it just starts to lose steam. I suspect that’s what happened with Keep Lakeland Beautiful over all these years. Those were most passionate and committed to the effort have moved on or retired, and it just kind of fizzled.”
Rewis stressed that all of the recommended steps interplay with each other.
“Collectively, we think we can make a difference inside our city with this and balance the needs of the neighborhood and property-owner victim and hopefully catch a few illegal dumpers in the process,” Rewis said.
Rewis’ presentation to commissioners:
Video of the workshop: