Officials seek cameras to combat dumping

BROWNSVILLE — Brownsville Director of Public Health and Wellness Art Rodriguez has seen it all pile up along the side of the road.

There are tires, old dirty mattresses, piles of discarded construction materials and even boats, trailers and car parts, Rodriguez said, explaining what he’s seen in piles of illegally dumped trash. And in Brownsville, it’s a consistent problem.

“About three times a week we get complaints,” he said.

There are surveillance cameras placed around Brownsville that are meant to catch illegal dumpers in the act, but the outdated technology serves more as a mild deterrent than as a realistic way to actually identify and prosecute people who drop off loads of trash on the side of the road or in the city’s alleyways.

That’s why Rodriguez hopes to appear before Brownsville city commissioners at their next meeting to make a presentation on illegal dumping and to ask the commission to approve a $200,000 budget amendment so the health department can upgrade those cameras to better identify and convict illegal dumping culprits.

“The new cameras, I’m being told, are a lot more effective. They’re high-tech cameras, and they capture better video and audio,” Rodriguez said. “They are true surveillance cameras, and it allows us to work more efficiently throughout the city and to work with law enforcement.”

Rodriguez said he and his staff landed at the $200,000 cost-point by identifying what other cities are spending on similar technology used for the same purpose.

“Other communities have had this in place, and we’ve seen that once you have a true high-tech surveillance system, it really makes people think twice,” Rodriguez said.

Fines assessed by municipal court for people convicted of illegal dumping can be up to $2,000 per violation, he said. The city’s current cameras — which have narrow lens angles, are pixilated and lack high definition — aren’t doing an effective job.

And there are plenty of reasons to deter illegal dumpers and to fine people who are caught in the act.

“It decreases property values where people are just throwing trash on the side of the road,” Rodriguez said. “It also makes us work harder as a city because now we’re having to send crews to dig through trash and then another crew to pick up and then the landfill loses out on what could have been potential revenues.”

However, the financial damage illegal dumping can cause is not the prime reason for keeping trash off of the streets.

“The biggest threat from illegal dumping is rat harborage and mosquito breeding grounds,” Rodriguez said, explaining that these are unhealthy conditions. “And, then again, you never know what people are dumping on the side of the road. It could be hazardous waste.”

However, Rodriguez does know that the trash people decide to dump on the sides of roads seems to have no limits. From boats to trailers to piles of tires, he said he’s seen just about everything. As for the craziest trash he’s seen dumped, “we’ve probably had, like, most of a car dumped, like the frame, almost like half a car,” he said.

Rodriguez encourages anyone who witnesses illegal dumping or finds illegally dumped materials to call (956) 546-HELP to report it.