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City looks at ways to stop illegal dumping in parks

Last week’s discovery of household debris piled up near Carroll Park underscored the city’s lack of coordination in addressing illegal dumping on public land

Above: Just a sample of the unwanted household items dumped in Carroll Park.

Last week’s massive debris dump at Carroll Park highlighted the lack of coordination in responding to dumping problems on public lands in Baltimore.

Illegal dumping is widespread in city parks, but doesn’t always get reported or addressed in a timely manner, as evidenced by the dumpers caught red-handed last November in Herring Run Park by nearby residents.

In that case, city police did not detain the dumpers and said a park ranger was needed.

After photos were posted on Facebook and 45th District Del. Cory McCray got involved, the Housing Department’s code enforcement branch responded and took the lead, seizing the vehicle.

Had the dumpers not driven their truck into a ravine – and gotten stuck for 8 full hours – they would have likely gotten away with it.

In that case, police acknowledged they made a mistake by not detaining the dumper and writing a citation, and code enforcement offered to provide training to the police in how to address illegal dumping, so such misunderstandings wouldn’t happen again.

Gwynns Falls Dumping

Last week, several truckloads of purged household junk – office equipment, TVs, trash and a graveyard’s worth of VHS tapes – was dumped along a path a short walk from the Gwynns Falls trailhead next to the Carroll Park Golf Course.

Cheron Porter, spokeswoman for the housing department, said code enforcement found out about the eyesore on Wednesday and came out immediately.

Dumping has been reported near the golf course before – and several small deposits of  construction debris and a mattress were visible last week at the site – but code enforcement did not have the location on its radar.

“Dumping in this particular area is new to us,” Porter said.

The city is now considering ways to prevent further dumping in the location, just off of Washington Boulevard in Southwest Baltimore.

Porter said securing the area so private vehicles can’t get in might be possible. “We need to have a conversation with Rec and Parks about this,” she said.

Porter added there were challenges in securing the area because the Department of Public Works has to get into the site to empty a trash interceptor that catches trash along the heavily polluted Gwynns Run.

She noted that surveillance cameras, a tool that code enforcement uses elsewhere to catch dumpers, might also being considered.

“But in an area like a park with high traffic, the cameras would run out of memory quickly. They might not be the most effective solution,” Porter said.

David Flores, of Blue Water Baltimore, an organization that tracks environmental pollution including dumping, says he was pleased to hear that housing is looking at proactive responses to parklands dumping.

“This needs to be addressed,” he said, but he added that an after-the-fact investigation of illegal dumping is only part of the solution.

A Working Group for Parks?

Flores suggested that code enforcement work more closely with Rec and Parks, DPW and park advocacy groups to identify dumping “hot spots” in parks and public spaces throughout the city.

He noted that there is a Trash Working Group, with members from city agencies, nonprofits and community groups, that tries to combat trash and dumping in neighborhoods, but he was unaware of any group that focuses on trash and dumping in public lands.

Such a group could develop a coordinated strategy to address dumping through common-sense physical barriers and targeted enforcement, he said.

As for preventing future dumping at Carroll Park, Flores suggests putting a gate and lock at the Gwynns Falls trailhead.

A locked gate would not prevent DPW from access to the trash interceptor, he said. “Staff just needs to be furnished with a key or key-code to the lock. I know first-hand that this is standard practice at other city parks.”

Sign for the Gwynns Falls Trailhead. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

Sign for the Gwynns Falls Trailhead. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

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