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Vehicles used to illegally dump trash in Cincinnati can now be impounded

Illegal dumping sites in Cincinnati.
Keep Cincinnati Beautiful
Illegal dumping sites in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday allowing the city to impound a vehicle used to illegally dump trash. Two other ordinances aimed at reducing litter also got approval.

Mayor Aftab Pureval introduced the three measures.

"Every single one of our neighborhoods deserves a clean and healthy community in a space that we can all be proud of," Pureval said. "But unfortunately, particularly in disinvested neighborhoods, illegal dumping persists. This is our opportunity to not just talk about it, but actually take every available measure to fight back against that."

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, a nonprofit organization, monitors about 30 sites frequently used for illegal dumping. Environmental Services and Greenspace Director Alistair Probst says the neighborhoods with the highest level of illegal dumping are South Fairmount, Walnut Hills, Camp Washington, and Avondale.

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"You've got vacant spaces, combined with the geography — it's very hilly," Probst said. "Overgrowth, quiet, maybe not very well lit — those are all perfect recipes for illegal dump sites."

Probst says they see a lot of contractors illegally dumping debris from roofing, landscaping, etc. There are also large items like furniture and appliances, and a lot of tires.

"It's a social health and it's an environmental health challenge," he said. "Building materials [could have] asbestos, chemicals that can leach into the ground or to the water ... tires breed a lot of mosquitoes, and we all know that mosquitoes are a huge public health issue."

Probst presented information about litter to Cincinnati Council's Healthy Neighborhoods Committee on Tuesday. See the full presentation below (story continues after).

One ordinance passed Wednesday allows any police officer with probable cause to believe a vehicle was used to illegally dump trash to impound that vehicle.

"This is going to give the city another tool to hold dumpers accountable and disincentivize their behavior," Pureval said.

A second ordinance is the result of a pilot program the city conducted on vacant private lots, using $300,000 in federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The city paid to fence off vacant lots identified as frequent dumping sites, with significant results.

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One site in South Cumminsville received 13 dumping citations since 2021, costing the city about $2,500 to remove items and clean up the site. The city spent about $5,500 on fencing, signage, and installing a camera; since then, the site has had zero citations.

Pureval says now that the fencing strategy is known to work, the system can continue with a key difference: the property owner will be responsible for the cost of fencing.

"Not only has this reduced this activity at some of our most problematic sites, but it's also demonstrated that these installations can actually save the city money on the back end," he said.

A third ordinance clarifies that all properties have to follow the rules for maintaining trash cans and dumpsters. Previously, the city couldn't issue citations to apartment buildings with more than four units.

Alistair Probst of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful says there are other effective measures to reduce large item dumping, but they can be costly.

The agency did a pilot program in South Fairmount this year offering regular opportunities for legally disposing of large items, free of charge. They also handed out vouchers for free disposal through Rumpke.

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"We got some really, really good results during this 11 week trial period; we held an event each [Friday]," Probst said. "We had 554 vehicle loads come through during that period; we diverted 50 tons; we saw 46 zip codes come; we passed out 658 Rumpke landfill vouchers."

Probst says they also saw a 20% reduction in complaints during the pilot program.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful hopes to do an expanded pilot in the spring, but needs at least $35,000 to make it happen. Probst says they're hoping the city can chip in, but they're also looking for grant opportunities.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.