ILLEGAL DUMPERS BEWARE: DOÑA ANA COUNTY IS GETTING AGGRESSIVE

ILLEGAL DUMPERS BEWARE: DOÑA ANA COUNTY IS GETTING AGGRESSIVE

Christina Astorga of Doña Ana learned the hard way last week that Doña Ana County is cracking down on illegal dumpsites.

Astorga appeared in Magistrate Court last week, where Judge Anne Segal sentenced her to 200 hours of community service, plus court costs. Segal also imposed a $1,000 fine, which will be suspended once Astorga completes her community service requirement.

Luis Morales, director of the Doña Ana County Environmental Services Division, said cases leading to convictions like Astorga's are on the rise as two codes enforcement officers from his department make headway in identifying the culprits behind illegal dumpsites.

"Richard Guerra and Jerry Ford are seasoned investigators who are working full-time on this problem in our county," Morales said. "When we get a report of an illegal dumpsite, they are dispatched to it. In the Astorga case, they were able to identify the offender in less than 24 hours."

Morales said the dumpsite that led to Astorga's conviction was reported last November on Hill Road. Guerra and Ford were dispatched to the site to gather evidence, take photographs and track down the violator. Once paperwork was filed in Magistrate Court, the ensuing papers were hand-delivered to Astorga, notifying her of the prosecution.

"This is an example of our zero tolerance for illegal dumping," Morales said. "The county has free waste-dumping sites in the communities of Anthony, La Mesa, Hill, Butterfield, Mesquite, La Union, Hatch and Garfield. If people are too lazy to use these sites, we'll come after them."

Community service imposed in illegal dumping cases involves cleaning up trash on weekends in the county's rural communities. Fines for illegal dumping can go as high as $5,000, depending on whether hazardous materials are found at the dumpsite.

Doña Ana County is the first county in New Mexico to hire environmental codes officers, and the Astorga case was the first to be tried under the new system, Morales said.

"I want to commend Judge Segal for her handling of this case," Morales said. "I'm confident that she and the other Magistrate Court judges will continue to support the county's efforts to make illegal dumping a costly and embarrassing crime to be convicted of. The word is getting out, and the prosecutions aren't going to stop anytime soon."

To report an illegal dumpsite, or for more information, residents may call (505) 647-7117. Residents calling from outside the Las Cruces area may call toll-free at 1-877-827-7200 and request extension 7117.