Illegal dumpers, you have been warned.
Cameras are watching, and your photos will be posted on a new state Department of Environmental Protection website -
That's just part of a new, and long-overdue, state crackdown on illegal dumping in state parks and forests, wildlife management areas and other publicly owned tracts among the state's 813,000 acres of preserved land.
Illegal dumping in remote natural areas has been a growing problem in the state for years. Cleanups routinely discover construction debris, furniture, lots of tires and even cars and boats. Tracking the identity of the illegal dumpers is often difficult - but new motion-sensor cameras set up in select areas will certainly help. The public will be asked to identify the people and vehicles in pictures the state will post on the website. Details of arrests and charges will also be posted.
Jeff Tittel, the head of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, blames cuts to DEP parks and enforcement staff for the increase in dumping. The budget for the Division of Parks, Fish & Wildlife is down 40 percent since 2009, and overall DEP enforcement actions have dropped by almost 60 percent, Tittel says.
No doubt those cuts haven't helped. But this is a decades-long problem, and no matter how much staff is available, they can't be everywhere. The enforcement crackdown and public-awareness campaign announced recently by DEP officials are a major step in the right direction.
Under the pilot "Don't Waste Our Open Space" program, which will be evaluated in a year to determine how effective it was, the new website will provide information on how to report illegal dumping. Existing fines for illegal dumping can be as high as $5,000 per violation, along with restitution, forfeiture of any vehicle used in the illegal dumping and loss of driver's license. But the state may also pursue penalties of up to $50,000 under the Solid Waste Management Act.
Knute Jensen, the DEP's director of Solid Waste Enforcement and Licensing Operations, said the campaign will be "pretty old school and pretty basic." "We're gonna have to make some examples of people," he said.
That's the right idea. A few well-publicized cases of people being hit with $50,000 fines for dumping in the Pine Barrens are exactly what's needed.
The new campaign includes other measures as well - more warning and education signs, and additional lighting and road barricades in areas prone to violations.
But hitting illegal dumpers in the wallet should prove to be the most effective deterrent - and catching them should be easier now.