Roadway trash a concern for county leaders

Drivers who don’t secure their truck or trailer loads could be in for a wake up call. County leaders requested warning signs and stepped up law enforcement to remind residents that unsecured loads are illegal and may create hazards for other drivers as well as unsightly litter.

County leaders took notice when JP Burke, owner of Diamond J Trucking, notified them that he had a flat tire due to lost lumber and nails that were left on a roadway. Unsecured loads and road trash are an ongoing concern for Pershing County Commission Chairman Larry Rackley.

“I’ve actually made stops, picked up stuff and threw it in the back of my truck,” he said. “My truck has a camper so I don’t have to cover it. As JP is saying, we need some enforcement.”

New roadway and landfill signs are in the works to raise awareness about the hazards of unsecured loads and a public service announcement is planned for the county website. Landfill Supervisor Mitch Neilsen proposed a $25 fee for unsecured loads that enter the dump. Such gate fees are imposed at other county landfills but local county leaders did not express support.

Neilsen said unsecured and unbagged loads of trash are a chronic problem at the landfill. Most contractors are aware that their truck loads of waste must be secured or they could be fined. Neilsen would like greater public awareness of the potential consequences of unsecured loads.

“Ninety percent of what comes into the landfill is not secured,” he told county leaders. “Contractors have gotten better about it over the years. One of the things that we don’t focus on are roofing companies because the material doesn’t blow away. However, contractors know that if they are seen going down the road with an unsecured load, they are going to get a ticket.”

Household trash and yard waste should be tarped and tied down so it doesn’t end up along roadways and loose garbage should be bagged so it doesn’t blow around the county dump. To save space and generate revenue, there are areas for recyclables, hazardous materials and burnable waste including scrap metal, appliances, electronics, tires, paint, mattresses as well as “demolition” waste. There’s a burn area for yard waste such as weeds, dead trees and brush.

Local dump fees are low compared to other areas. There are fees for some things, such as big tires, but no fee is collected at the gate for household trash. Neilsen relies on the public to separate, bag and secure their garbage. To save landfill space, keep fees low and generate revenue, he has set aside areas for scrap metal, appliances, electronics, tires, mattresses, paint and other waste but getting the public to separate and secure their loads is a constant battle.

“I mentioned this in an article I wrote for Waste Management Magazine: the more convenience we provide for the public, the less control we have,” he said. “Some of it isn’t just sheer irresponsibility, it’s just not thinking about it. A lot of folks seem to have trailers that they use just for trash. It takes a while to fill those trailers and animals and birds pick at those loads. They’re not seeing it going down the road but it’s like a wind tunnel sucking that stuff out of the trailer.”

County leaders believe roadway signs and greater enforcement by the sheriff’s office could reduce the problem. There are “bagged trash only” signs at the landfill but those are frequently ignored, Neilsen said. In his opinion, a gate fee for unsecured loads would be more effective.

“I’ve talked to several landfills through my training over the last four or five years. If you pull up to the gate at the landfill and your load is uncovered, we really don’t care if anything blew out or not, we’re going to charge you $25 for an unsecured load,” he said. “It’s a thousand dollar fine for littering but people are rest assured that the probability of them getting caught is very slim.”

District Attorney Bryce Shields said littering and unsecured loads are separate violations of state and county codes. He agreed that signs would be a good first step in raising public awareness.

“I think the sign needs to specifically stress or inform people that their loads need to be secured,” said Shields. He’ll determine the legal terminology for warning signs that may appear on Arobio Lane, Pit Road, Sand Hill Road and other roadways to and from the county dump.

Even heavy items should be secured otherwise they could be hazardous for other drivers.

“We had an individual throw three couch cushions away,” Neilsen said. “Ten minutes later, someone else came to the landfill and said someone had lost a couch. They threw the cushions away and paid no mind to the couch that was in the middle of the road. They had to drive past it as they were leaving the landfill. It was at the bottom of the road just past Lone Mountain.” 

Neilsen’s proposed fee for unsecured loads was not approved for now but county leaders could change their minds if unsightly and hazardous waste continues to appear along local roadways.

“As our inspectors explained to us a few years ago, not that we’re going to charge the fee but if the public is aware the ability is there, then again it’s that forced responsibility issue,” Neilsen said. “I don’t want to go that far either because that means we have to be sitting at the gate.”

In Nevada, dumping dirt, garbage, rubbish or dead animals on or within 1,000 feet of a public highway is a misdemeanor that can cost up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail.

According to NRS 484D.850, “no person shall operate on any highway any vehicle with any load unless the load and any covering thereon is securely fastened to prevent the covering or load from becoming loose, detached or in any manner a hazard to other users of the highway.”