Denver Councilman Paul Lopez picked up a thick chunk of glass from a pile of trash dumped in an alley on the city's southwest side.

Old tires, a broken sink and the frame of a television lay among weeds in a vacant lot off of South Federal Boulevard. The fence had been torched, and piles of beer bottles covered the ground.

"We have to get people to realize this neighborhood is not a dumping ground," Lopez said. "We refuse to be treated like this."

Lopez is pushing for the approval of a tougher ordinance against illegal dumping — one that could allow police to seize automobiles used in the transport of the trash and that could send violators to jail for up to a year.

The bill would add illegal dumping to the city's nuisance ordinance and will be introduced for a first vote by the Denver City Council on Monday. It's seen as a first step to corralling a problem that has been growing every year, said police Cmdr. Paul Pazen.

Last year, the city received nearly 4,500 complaints about illegal dumping, and costs for city Public Works crews to clean up the mess reached about $250,000 in 2012.

"This is something we absolutely have to get a handle on and try to help keep our city beautiful," Pazen said. "Our goal is to hold these contractors, subcontractors or scrappers who are engaging in this illegal activity accountable."

Abuse by contractors


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Denver has about 17,000 roll-off trash bins that are usually located in alleyways, which have become a convenient place for construction crews to discard their waste.

Also, folks remodeling their homes or just getting rid of their junk have loaded up the bins or just thrown the waste in the alleys or vacant lots. Lopez said he has seen boats, hot tubs, refrigerators, lumber, paint and dining-room sets left out in the alleys.

"Sometimes they do it in broad daylight; sometimes they come and dump it in the dead of night," he said.

Discarded construction and remodeling waste, such as this old hot tub, are being illegally dumped in parts of Denver.
Discarded construction and remodeling waste, such as this old hot tub, are being illegally dumped in parts of Denver. (Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

The city, which provides free trash service to all single-family homes, has a large-item pickup service every nine weeks on a rotating schedule. A maximum of five large items is collected for each household. But the illegal dumping is much different, said Mike Lutz, operations director for the city's solid-waste department.

"You do have residents who are not using the system like they should, but you also have roofing contractors or construction contractors who basically do a job, load up the back of their pickup truck and go into an alley," Lutz said. "Those are the guys we want to go after."

It has become common for people throughout the metro area to come to Denver to dump their wares, knowing the trash bins are everywhere and the penalties for an illegal-dumping violation are low.

Current penalty: $96

Pazen told City Council members about a case that occurred late at night in September when a man was seen dumping trash, including old tires, a couch and other refuse, in a Stapleton vacant lot. A resident wrote down the license plate of the pickup truck, and the suspect was questioned by police.

The suspect admitted committing the crime, saying he was a scrapper who saw a vacant lot filled with trash and figured it was OK. A trip to the landfill would have cost him $65. Instead, he got a fine of $96, Pazen said.

"Under the current system, a $96 fine wouldn't force him to do anything different," Pazen said. "We think the teeth (of this ordinance) will readily communicate that this isn't tolerated and there are consequences."

Karen Cuthbertson, president of the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association, often sees trucks with names of construction companies from neighboring jurisdictions dumping their refuse in alleyways near her home.

"They can do it for free here," she said.

"There is one gentleman who sees it so often that the police commander was considering setting up a Halo camera to catch the people," she said. "The closer you get to the city limits, the worse it is. They can come five or six blocks into Denver and dump for free and leave. I am in favor of anything that gives them more muscle to go after these guys."

Cuthbertson said she doubts many companies would risk losing one of their vehicles over illegal dumping.

"I think it would change things drastically if the person's business vehicle was taken from them," she said.

Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367, jpmeyer@denverpost.com or twitter.com/jpmeyerdpost