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City Council Hopes To Combat Double Illegal Dumping By Doubling Fines, Incentivizing Haulers

Patrick Semansky/AP

Members of the Baltimore City Council discussed a series of measures to reduce the 10,000 tons of waste dumped illegally within city limits each year at a Monday night meeting. 

The Neighbors Against Predatory Dumping Act, spearheaded by Councilman Zeke Cohen, would double first-time illegal dumping fines from $500 to $1,000.


“Illegal dumping harms all of Baltimore, but it does not impact our communities equally,” Cohen, a South Baltimore Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill, said. “Residents of redlined, disinvested neighborhoods are sick and tired of being treated like garbage.”


Illegal dumping citations are concentrated in historically redlined communities on Baltimore’s east and west sides, according to a Department of Public Works report analyzing citations from fiscal year 2020.


Illegal dumping lowers a community’s environmental, health and economic outcomes, the report noted, by contaminating soil and groundwater and creating breeding grounds for rats and disease spreading mosquitoes. It also deters investment in neighborhoods, leading to decreased property values. 


Cohen said other cities and municipalities pursue those responsible for what he called the “predatory practice” far more aggressively. The first-time fine in Washington, D.C. is $5,000 and between $4,000 and $18,000 in New York City.


“People usually don't dump in Harbor East or Fells Point or along the waterfront. They dump in areas that they think they can get away with it,” Cohen said.


The act also would require an annual report from city agencies to detail illegal dumping activity, including the number of violations disaggregated by zip code. If the bill is successful, it would take effect 30 days after being signed into law.


The bill is one effort from a coalition consisting of Cohen and fellow councilmembers Phylicia Porter, Odette Ramos and James Torrence.


“Collectively, we recognize that illegal dumping is a systemic issue that spans beyond artificial boundaries,” Torrence, a West Baltimore Democrat, said.


He called for a hearing with officials from the departments of Public Works, Housing and Community Development, Law and Health, as well as the Baltimore Police Department, to explain how their agencies work to eliminate and respond to illegal dumping.


Porter called for a hearing with representatives from the departments of Finance, 

Public Works and Health to discuss a potential small hauler incentive program that would reward the cleaning of illegal dumping and litter.


“Small haulers are already doing this work every day, but by incentivizing the work they do, we're empowering these environmental entrepreneurs to be able to relieve some of the pressure on the city's existing systems,” Councilwoman Porter, a Democrat representing South Baltimore, said. 


She said the program was inspired by former Mayor Jack Young’s 2020 Clean It Up! campaign, which temporarily waived the fees small haulers pay to deposit trash at city dumps.


In other action, Council President Nick Mosby introduced legislation to create a permanent fund for Baltimore students to receive skilled trade education through the city school system.


The Dante Barksdale Career Technology Education Fund, named for the outreach coordinator for Baltimore's Safe Streets program who was gunned to death in January, would supplement pre-apprenticeship programs and other workforce development programs and require city contractors to contribute both money and apprenticeship opportunities. Yearly contributions to the fund will be set as the bill winds its way through the legislative process.  


The fund would honor Barksdale’s legacy by creating opportunities for young Baltimoreans as a means to violence prevention, Mosby said.


“The Dante Barksdale Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund is the sort of policy prescription that can create transformative change in our city,” he said.


The bill calls for the mayor and City Council to provide oversight, governance, and administration of the fund. Mosby introduced it as a city charter amendment; in order to become law, it must receive approval from both the council and city residents.


“We understand how much Dante meant to the city that he loved and dedicated his life to improve,” Barksdale’s mother, Joan Carlena Houston-Raye, said in a statement. “This Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund will cement his legacy for years to come.”


Councilman John Bullock introduced a bill that would require project labor agreements for construction projects valued at $25 million or more, meaning contractors would have to agree in their bids for city work to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union.


Those agreements must spell out mechanisms to resolve labor disputes and contain guarantees against strikes and lockouts.


“We believe this can also be leveraged to increase the number of Baltimore City residents working on city-funded construction projects,” Bullock said. “ There would be a positive economic impact for city residents, including higher wages, less wage theft because of bargaining power, and also access to benefits like health insurance and retirement.”


The bill follows in the footsteps of a near-identical piece of legislation introduced by former Councilwoman Shannon Sneed last term. Sneed’s bill failed to pass .


“I know that there'll be questions. I'm looking forward to a spirited debate and even potential amendments,” Bullock said at a pre-meeting Monday afternoon.


The council passed a bill to boost the salary of the Director of Public Works from $188,000 to $245,000.


Mayor Brandon Scott pushed for the 30% increase, arguing that the boost would make the position’s compensation commensurate with the challenges the city’s deteriorating water and sewer infrastructure presents.


The city commissioned a salary study that found the new salary is aligned with those of public works officials in other municipalities with similar responsibilities. Acting Director Matthew Garbark has held the position since last year, after former director Rudy Chow retired. 


The council also passed a bill to create the Baltimore City Workgroup on Nuisance Parking and Auto Businesses. The group will study illegal storage of cars on public rights-of-way by auto repair shops and car dealerships, then turn their findings into recommendations.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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