The residents of Harrisburg have gathered this week to visit illegal landfills in their neighborhoods and work together to determine who is doing it and how to stop them.
The tour was led by Rafiyqa Muhammad, a longtime city resident and state member Advisory Council on Environmental Justice, which makes recommendations to the State Department of Environmental Protection. She invited residents to the event on Wednesday afternoon in the area of Sixième and Maclay streets after hearing complaints about illegal landfills which sometimes contain hazardous materials.
The type of waste in these landfills is not primarily household waste; instead, the big one appears to be commercial waste such as tires, toilets, construction debris, and hazardous waste.
Muhammad and John Brakeall, regional coordinator for the State Department’s office of environmental justice, hosted the event to hear from residents and coordinate resources that could help tackle this long-standing problem.
Muhammad led a discussion after the tour where she shared some of the excuses she has heard over the years when residents complain about illegal landfills, including blaming residents for the garbage or throwing in “solutions” without asking. first get feedback from the people who live closest to the landfill. sites.
“I saw stuff on Facebook saying that people in this community didn’t want improvements in our city… that’s a bold lie,” Muhammad said. “We want improvements in our city, that’s how it’s done.”
Many locals want to help find solutions, but they need to be involved in the process, Muhammad said. Residents know the problem best and have to live with the garbage that marks their neighborhoods, so they should be consulted, she said.
Residents attempted to gather information and evidence about possible dump trucks and Muhammad partnered with several agencies and officials across the city. Across from the Harrisburg Fair Housing building, the Camp Curtin YMCA has addressed similar issues. But community members need more resources and a more concerted approach.
“Things were happening in the community and we tried to investigate,” Muhammad said. “No one knew anything when Mr. Harvey from Camp Curtin YMCA asked who was dumping next to my facility, the YMCA. Activities for children, families, fitness, it has a garden, there are housing and communities.
Yet no one knows who is responsible for dumping this garbage.
“There are rubbish tips everywhere and we need to know why,” Muhammad said. “Sixteenth and Walnut Street is a dump and I’ve watched this for the longest time wondering: Why is this there? Families, schools, communities, churches. … no one knows where it came from. … It must end.
Muhammad spoke with Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick to try to partner with county officials in an investigation and possible solutions.
“There is going to be an investigation at different levels,” Muhammad said. “I know the county is going to do an investigation, reach out to different entities because we need to find out what’s going on… that’s all we’re asking.”
The city has not been able to identify the dumpers, but in recent months it has carried out several major cleanups, including one that resulted in the disposal of more than 28 tonnes of well-packaged waste. This clean-up alone took two full days last month.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said the number of public works employees had doubled under his tenure and the city had purchased the large equipment needed to carry out its own cleanings. He has also appointed a new director of public works who Papenfuse says wants to do even more large-scale cleanups.
“We have tremendous new leadership in public works with Nate Spriggs,” said Papenfuse, who will soon hand over the mayor’s chair to newly elected mayor Wanda Williams. “The next administration is well positioned to do more as long as Mayor Wanda Williams keeps Nate and adequately funds his budget requests.”
David Patton, codes administrator for the city, told PennLive that the number of complaints declined slightly in previous years and then leveled off. He believes this is due to the increased development in various neighborhoods and the city’s efforts. But there is still a lot of work to be done, as evidenced by the giant dumps presented during the tour.
“The challenge in pursuing illegal dumping is to have direct evidence,” Patton said. “If someone sees and reports an illegal spill, they will have to testify in court, because an accused has the right to confront his accuser. This is of course difficult, given the understandable fear of retaliation from an abuser. “
Sometimes there is independent evidence that can be used against illegal dumpers, such as mail or personal items left in the debris. But defendants could simply say they didn’t know who had “stolen” their trash and thrown it out, which could result in a case being quashed.
According to Patton, the city codes department has placed cameras in some chronic landfill areas of the city in cooperation with Public Works. These cameras could help provide strong evidence against perpetrators who may appear in court.
For residents, this means they can still file waste complaints without having to testify. Patton therefore urged anyone with information about the illegal dumpers to share it with the city by calling 311 or emailing the Codes Department at [email protected]
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