Michael Bushnell

Pick a vacant lot, any vacant lot across the city’s urban core, and you’re likely to find overgrown weeds along with heaps of illegally dumped trash, waste tires and quite possibly the carcass of a dead animal or two. It’s a city wide problem that negatively impacts neighborhoods, including those in Historic Northeast. 

On May 23, at a string of three vacant overgrown lots off 16th Terrace and Topping Avenue that are owned by the city’s Land Bank, city officials announced a number of initiatives designed to step up enforcement against illegal dumping and impose harsher penalties on those who continue to illegally use a vacant lot as their trash dump rather than taking it to the landfill. Ordinance # 240458 and Resolution # 240456 were voted on and passed during the city council legislative session that same day.

For Fourth District Councilman Crispin Rea, the matter hits close to home, literally.
“I grew up in this neighborhood,” he said. “I grew up running around this very alley, running around piles like what is right behind us. Now, in my late 30’s, I return to the house my dad lives in and the dumping continues and for me personally, it’s been a source of frustration.”

Rea noted that despite his disappointment and frustration, the new program is the most comprehensive the city has ever rolled out.

Photo by Michael Bushnell

Alan Ashurst, a familiar name for Northeast residents as one of the most strident illegal dumping investigators on city staff, has returned to the Neighborhoods Department and now heads up a team of five investigators, all of whom come to the department with over a decade and a half of city service under their belts.

“This is the first time we’ve had a staff, a supervisor and a manager dedicated to something like this, and it’s considerably more organized now” Ashurst said. “The crew that we have, every one of them has been with the city for over fifteen-plus years, they know codes enforcement, they know Chapter 62 of illegal dumping. I think moving forward, we’re going to have an excellent team.”

Key components of the new ordinances include the expansion of the Neighborhood Services department’s illegal dumping investigators and installing more cameras to monitor higher risk areas such as 14th and Kensington or the East Bottoms.

The measures also include re-establishing a specific court for illegal dumping much like the old Housing Court model operated, once presided over by Judge A. Wayne Cagle. Once in the court system, those cases, per the new ordinances, will see harsher fines and penalties, especially for those who dump in city parks, land trust lots and unimproved parcels. Councilman Rea referenced two new ordinances, specifically Ordinance #240458 that increases the minimum fine for an illegal dumping conviction on public lots to a range of $500 to $1,000. Subsequent convictions would bring fines to a minimum of range of $750 to $1,000 per violation. In addition, violators would be required to complete a 48-hour shock incarceration time or participate in a court-ordered community service clean-up program.

When asked specifically how the new ordinances will be enforced on the proliferation of homeless camps such as the one on public/private land at Chouteau and Belmont (see photo below), Rea responded that it would be handled “with balance and compassion”, adding that the goal for staff would be to work with the camp residents on getting it cleaned up.

 Photo by Michael Bushnell

Councilman Rea also noted that the key metric the city will be watching is the citizen satisfaction surveys. “This is an area that our residents have highlighted as important. It’s also an area where we haven’t performed very well,” Rea said. “It’s going to take some time to move those scores but we’re going to be watching those citizen satisfaction scores over the coming years.”

According to Courtney Stevens, Public Information Officer for the city’s Public Works Department, the city will be launching an awareness campaign that includes increased messaging on illegal dumping and how to report illegal dumping through the city’s 311 app or calling 816-513-1313 to report an illegal dump site.