Recently there’s been a rash of illegal dumping along South Old Stage Road near Dunsmuir, a little ways north of the railroad track crossing. Unsightly piles of old tires, mattresses, furniture, you name it, have been cast off by people seeking to avoid dump fees.

Longtime Dunsmuir resident James Powell sums it up this way: “It sucks. They’re trashing our backyard.”

Powell also expressed the view that trash attracts trash, that the more trash that piles up, the more some people will feel it’s okay to add more.

This messy situation got more complicated last week when two young men trying to do a good deed began hauling trash out from behind bushes and along the railroad tracks paralleling the road, making it more visible in the hope that the county’s road department would haul it away, something county crews do on a semi-regular basis.

The two men were spotted as they were moving the trash by a Pacific Power contractor, Mike Sanders, who was in the area inspecting trees for possible removal from around power lines. He said the two young men told him they were currently unemployed and thought this would be a useful thing to do with their free time.

The piles of debris they accumulated quickly set off alarm bells at the Mount Shasta branch of the county’s road department, which put up a sign next to the biggest piles asking for any information on who was responsible for the trash pileup.

When the county found out what had happened, what the young men had done, the situation got even more complicated. According to a county road maintenance supervisor, Eric Freeman, the county is only obligated to haul trash that’s dumped alongside the roadside, not farther in along the railroad’s right-of-way, on privately owned land. So did it have an obligation to haul away trash that had originally been dumped on the right-of-way but had now been moved next to the road?

That decision got kicked upstairs, to County Public Works Department Deputy Director Todd Lamanna, who grudgingly allowed that a county crew would “more than likely remove that trash.” But he made it clear he wasn’t happy about the situation, noting that the young men, while “trying to do good,” had pulled trash off private property and put it on public land (the county right-of-way along the road), and that this “amounts to littering.” He pointed out that when county crews haul away illegally dumped trash it diverts them from more useful tasks and adds to his department’s costs in the form of fees the county must pay when it drops off the trash.

“This might sound harsh, but if I found out who did it I’d charge them for the cost of removing the trash,” he said.

So is there any way to prevent or discourage people from illegal dumping in the first place? There are stiff fines for doing that, but first you have to catch someone in the act. Freeman, who’s been with the county’s road department for 13 years, says he can’t remember anyone ever being caught and fined for illegal dumping in the department’s Mount Shasta district.