One man's junk is still junk: Townships tired of dump-and-run trash in their ditches

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What appears to be a sectional couch was dumped in a road ditch this spring in Lorain Township. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Over the course of the past year, Bigelow Township board members have pulled their share of junk from rural road ditches. Over time it was stacked up alongside the township hall, and this spring it has filled two trailers that had to be hauled to the Nobles County Landfill.

The dump-and-run debris included four bed springs and mattresses, couches, recliners and tables. There was carpet, and even a portable basketball hoop.

A third load was comprised of dumped electronics that had to go to the county’s recycling center — three or four televisions, an air conditioner and a printer/copier. That load cost the township $100 to dispose of, and Bigelow Township Board Chairman Dean Christopherson contends that isn’t right.

For years, Bigelow Township and others surrounding the city of Worthington had a free pass at the county landfill and recycling center to dispose of items dumped in their ditches by people attempting to avoid the fee themselves. Christopherson said the county was willing to pick up the tab.

Now, with new leadership in the environmental services office, an issue of fairness has arisen. Is it fair for some townships to not have to pay, while others do? It’s a question that was posed to Nobles County commissioners during a recent board work session, and the five-member board has yet to make a decision.


“It’s not an exorbitant amount of cost, but I suppose it is for the township,” Stephen Schnieder, Nobles County Public Works director, told commissioners. “If we’re going to (take the items for free), should we do it for all the townships?”

Schnieder said the environmental services department doesn’t track how much townships bring in. While Bigelow Township seems to get the brunt of unwanted materials dumped in their ditches, Schnieder said Elk, Lorain and Worthington townships may also have some.

Commissioner Matt Widboom said he’d support a program that helps all townships get rid of the material. After all, it likely isn’t township residents who are doing the dumping.

Schnieder acknowledged that the popular spots for dump-and-runs are along quiet township gravel roads with no residents living nearby.

Mark Koster, environmental services manager for Nobles County, said dumping items in road ditches is most commonly seen in the spring.

“People want to get things out of their house and they find a road that’s not really well traveled,” he said. “It’s mostly in the townships that surround Worthington.”

While one township board member said he thinks there’s been more dumping since the city of Worthington began charging people to dispose of larger items and electronics during the annual spring cleanup, Koster disagreed.

“Even when we had the free collection 15 years ago, (people) still went out and dumped stuff,” he said.


Koster estimates it has cost the county less than $500 a year to take in electronics that township officials have retrieved from road ditches. He also acknowledged that if the county wants to collect those dumped items for free, the same rule should apply to all of the townships.

“It’s unfortunate we have people dropping stuff out (in the townships),” Koster said.

It isn’t just a cost to townships and the county to dispose of the discarded road ditch trash. There’s a cost to retrieve it, too.

“It’s costly to the township because we have to take our time and our equipment to pick it up — even if we don’t have to pay for disposal,” Christopherson said. “The cost should be shared by the people of the county because it’s not the township’s doing.”

In Lorain Township, board chairwoman Susanne Murphy said while there haven’t been as many instances of dumped garbage seen this year, the board is conscientious about clearing it up right away.

Even she has found a mattress in a road ditch, hooked a chain to it and cleared it away.

“I drug it a mile down the gravel road to the burn pile,” she said. “I’m afraid of bedbugs.”

Murphy said the township has frequently found dumped furniture — old recliners, couches, end tables — in road ditches, but there have also been bags of garbage and even water heaters tossed out along their rural roads.


With the water heater, Murphy said the serial number was taken down, and it was then traced it back to its owner — who was subsequently ordered to pick it back up.

“We try to find out the source,” she said. “If there’s a bag of garbage, we look for signatures — clues.”

The township has had fairly good success in doing so, Murphy said, estimating that 90% of the time it can trace what’s dumped back to who did it.

“Someone will see a strange vehicle,” she said, likening it to a neighborhood watch program. Township residents are on the lookout, and also work closely with law enforcement.

“We’re proud of our township and we want to keep it clean,” Murphy shared. “I think Lorain gets hit because we’re so close to town. We can almost predict where it is going to be. It’s south and east of JBS.

“They look for an abandoned road or (come) when nobody is there,” she added.

Schnieder said he will talk to other counties to see how they handle the costs to dispose of the items dumped in township road ditches. He intends to develop some sort of policy for the commissioners to consider.

Of course, there wouldn’t be a need if people would just dispose of their stuff the right way.

Koster said the Nobles County Recycling Center, 960 Diagonal Road, Worthington, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Tuesday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of each month, April through October. The center accepts any type of electronics, fluorescent bulbs, hazardous chemicals and paint. With the exception of paint, there is a fee assessed for items.

The Nobles County Landfill, 22341 Knauf Ave., Rushmore, is the proper place to dispose of furniture, mattresses and items that are too large to fit into residential garbage bins. The landfill is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday (or by appointment for larger loads), and from 8 a.m. to noon on the first Saturday of the month, April through October.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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