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Stiffer penalties soon in effect for littering

"The act of littering is about to become an expensive crime for those who dump garbage in rural Island County.As of June 8, people caught littering in the county will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined at least $50 for every cubic foot of garbage they dump. Those dumping hazardous waste will be charged with a gross misdemeanor and charged at least $100 a square foot. The new littering law comes courtesy of a bill passed by the state Legislature this spring. Written as a response to recent increases in illegal dumping in rural areas, the law is intended to punish illegal dumpers and to make police investigation a less-expensive enterprise for law enforcement agencies. Fifty percent of fines levied in littering cases now go to the investigating agency. The other 50 percent goes to the landowner who is the victim of illegal dumping. The law applies to all unincorporated areas in the state. Cities are responsible for creating their own illegal dumping laws.Until the new law, Island County penalized litterers with a charge of $95 for illegally dumped garbage totaling less than one square yard. Amounts over that carried a $475 charge. The Island County Sheriff's Office did not receive a portion of those fines. Sheriff Mike Hawley said the new money will help, but in cases that involve derelict cars and large amounts of garbage dumping, the kickback probably will not cover the cost of the paperwork.The paperwork involved may outweigh the money received, Hawley said.Rep. Dave Anderson (D-Clinton) amended the bill prior to its passage to make it apply to derelict vehicles. Dumping a vehicle in an unincorporated area is a gross misdemeanor under the new law, and subjects a vehicle's owner to potential double restitution to a landowner. Anderson said he pursued the amendment because the litter bill was a perfect solution to constituents' concerns about illegally dumped vehicles.It was serendipitous, he said. Debra Waterman, a South Whidbey property owner, said she has removed illegally dumped garbage from her land a number of times. The new law will help defray cleanup costs and could function as a better deterrent.I do think it is going to help, Waterman said.The sheriff's office investigates all illegal dumping complaints. Victims of this crime are encouraged to call the sheriff's office by dialing 911.As a sidelight to this issue, Sheriff Hawley reminds local residents that tossing a lighted cigarette onto the ground still carries a heavy fine, unchanged by the new law. The fine is $950."

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