With a loud thump heard across their Piner Road property, the Gaddis family this week received another set of unwelcome roadside ornaments: Two moldy mattresses, a box spring and several bottles of MuscleMilk and E&J brandy.
The discarded beds — grass already growing from the ripped seams — joined another pair of damp and darkened mattresses dropped about 20 yards down the secluded road on the western outskirts of Santa Rosa.
“How would you feel?” said Gaddis, whose husband’s family started Gaddis Nursery in 1926. “You have pride in your home, and someone dumps an old mattress out front.”
The Piner Road property and other rural roads in Sonoma County have become a dumping ground for scofflaws who discard beds, refrigerators, furniture and other large unwanted items — even boats — and drive away.
The problem is so bad that county road staff can easily list from memory the most notorious spots favored by illegal dumpers.
“They’re all over the county. It’s everywhere,” said Janine Crocker, a staffer with the Sonoma County roads department.
Most Fridays, a Sonoma County probation crew drives around collecting large items discarded illegally along the county’s picturesque rural roads.
The stretch of Piner Road near the Gaddis property is one of the regular stops for the pickup crew; the site had nine documented pickups last year. Others include Mark West Station, Trenton and Todd roads; I Street outside Petaluma; and even beautiful Walker Road, just a stone’s throw away from the Mecham Road dump.
Crocker collects complaints from residents and tells the probation crew where to go each week. It costs the county nearly $11,000 each year to cover the fees to discard of the items properly at the dump, Crocker said.
In 2009, the county posted signs and six motion-detector surveillance cameras in the worst spots with a $500,000 grant from the California Integrated Waste Management Board to catch violators. It also started a website, which has since been deactivated, to educate the public about illegal dumping.
At the time, the county estimated the cost of cleaning up the steady stream of trash being dumped along waterways and roads was $250,000 per year. A current estimate wasn’t available Tuesday.
The now-defunct program resulted in at least one arrest that was publicized: a 39-year-old Windsor man caught dumping trash near the Russian River. He reportedly told authorities that he thought it was allowed because of other trash in the area.
He pleaded guilty to illegal dumping, an infraction, and received a fine of $250 and 40 hours of community service.
Rob Silva, road operations division manager, said the county still uses the cameras to address problem areas, but they are used less often due to the cost of operating the devices — estimated at $35,000 a year at the time they were installed.
Part of the problem is caused by cleanup crews hired by homeowners, Silva said. Instead of taking the items to the county dump, some will discard them along rural roads and pocket the cash, he said.
“That’s happened more than a dozen times that I’ve logged,” Silva said. “A homeowner should … get the receipt to make sure the items were dumped.”