Garbage, particularly illegal dumping, has been in the news a lot in Southeast Queens in recent months.
And Henry Ehrhardt, director of customer relations for the Department of Sanitation, dropped by the April 17 meeting of Community Board 12 to report that progress in fighting the problems, while perhaps not as fast or as visible as residents would like, is in fact real.
“Since February, we have cleaned up 44 lots and have another 21 in progress,” Ehrhardt said. “With abandoned buildings we have cleaned 21 and have another 24 in progress. And this week we’ve received a list of another 20 from the Health Department.”
Ehrhardt said for quite a while the DOS was as frustrated as residents until it got regulations relaxed to make it easier to take care of litter in abandoned buildings in a more expedient manner.
“With a lot, we can go in, clean the property and send the owner a bill,” he told the board.
He said lots are fast and easy once the department receives the go-ahead, because it often is a case of going in with a piece of heavy equipment and scooping up the trash.
Buildings, he said, are a lot more complicated, and can be more intensive in terms of time and manpower.
Ehrhardt said the process for accessing abandoned buildings includes a referral from the Department of Health and usually must include a rodent problem.
“But that can be a double-edged sword,” he warned homeowners. “If you make a report to the Health Department and inspectors see rodents on your property you could receive a summons too.”
He also said garbage and debris in backyards may have to be channeled through the Department of Health or the Department of Buildings first if the garbage cannot be seen from the street.
Adrienne Adams, chairwoman of CB 12, said residents have to sometimes take a stand on their own blocks, even if it means riling a neighbor or two, in things ranging from litter to dog droppings.
“Let people know you are watching,” she said.
In terms of illegal dumping, Ehrhardt encouraged residents to take advantage of a reward program offered by the DOS.
But he said that people should not risk a direct confrontation with dumpers.
“Get a license number, the date and time,” he said. “Some people have made a couple of thousand dollars from the program.”
Ehrhardt said the reward program also has began paying dividends in industrial areas illegal dumpers have been known to frequent, usually at night.
“We’ll sit at known dumping locations in unmarked vehicles to see if we can catch people,” he said. “But in some industrial areas, there are never cars parked there at night, so they would see us and move on.”
DOS officials then realized that with many businesses in the industrial areas operating at night, they had possible allies in the truck drivers heading in and out at all hours.
“We realized the truck drivers in the area didn’t know about the reward program,” Ehrhardt said. “So we made sure that they did.”
Tip forms are available by calling 311 or at community board offices.