MARSHALL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Calhoun County is warning about the consequences of illegal dumping and starting a grant program to clean up the trash.

According to Calhoun County administrators, the problem pertaining mostly to the county’s rural roads escalated over the last couple of years, particularly this past spring.

“People are dumping on these rural roads where they think no one’s looking, no one’s watching, no one’s maintaining,” said Doug Ferrall, who serves as the assistant director for community development. “But it’s an issue for everybody. It’s an issue for the people that live out there. It’s an issue for the sheriff’s department. It’s an issue for the road department.”

It also is a problem for the local municipalities who also see and deal with this firsthand, including Sheridan Township.

“We’re tired of it,” said township supervisor Richard Porter. “It costs us … over $3,000 every year … for just roadside trash.”

Porter said those costs come at the expense of taxpayers.

“In one place, we picked up 80-some tires along the road. That had to be a business or someone that didn’t want to pay,” he added. “Right now, on all of those stacks of tires, I have to pay $3 per tire to get them processed.”

Calhoun County Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator Sarah Lundy said tires are among the items found on roadsides that could be dangerous for both people and wildlife.

“You don’t want those on fire, you don’t also want them breeding mosquitoes that causes vector-borne disease,” Lundy explained. “There were several containers of motor oil just sitting on the side of the road, so that could become a groundwater contaminant over time. Or you can get the wrong person who can light it on fire, and it can be an air pollution issue.”

Stemming from talks with local governments over the last year, the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office jointly announced an illegal dumping grant program to help clean up the mess. With $6,000 set aside every year from the county’s solid waste fund, individuals, groups and municipalities willing to do so by bringing the manpower can apply. In turn, the county would provide the dumpster, scheduling and finances on the back end.

“If we could provide that and others can provide the labor, we could really make this happen without too much cost to the county and no cost to the local residents,” Ferrall explained. “But they would then be empowered to take care of those specific sites, those specific roads.”

Enforcement will still be key, as municipalities are installing more trail cameras. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office says that it is possible to identify those responsible in many cases.

“It’s amazing the amount of trash we find — boxes, mail, people cleaning out their car in a park or along the roadside — it has their address right on it,” Ferrall added. “It’s not hard to trace this back to a specific address often.”

Illegal dumping is punishable by up to $500 in fines and community service.

As far as cleaning the mess up, the three say that it truly takes a village.

“If we get those sites cleaned up, that’s one of the best preventers of future dumping. People don’t want to dump on clean sites, where they know they’re being monitored, and they know this program exists,” Ferrall said.

“I think the awareness is important,” Lundy said.

“(This will) have all of us work together — the county, the townships, the residents — and try to make this a better place to live and a cleaner environment for all of us to live in,” Lundy said.

The application for the grant can be accessed here. County administrators encourage applicants to have a plan for roadside cleanup, including a location where a dumpster can be placed. They also said the Solid Waste Department will help dispose items not accepted at landfills like tires, liquids, bagged yard clippings and oil.