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Half-century of trash cleared from ravine near Morgantown

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More than 50 years’ worth of trash has been cleaned up from a rural ravine in the Morgantown area that property owners, residents and even strangers had been using the area as a landfill of sorts.

An anonymous tip last year alerted county and state officials to the trashed-filled ravine in western Johnson County, which led to a monthslong cleanup effort that just finished and cost $9,000.

The ravine was far from the road, away from drivers passing by the property at 7201 W. State Road 44. A few pieces of trash had floated down the ravine, which led to a tip being called into the Johnson County Health Department in January 2013, environmentalist Randy Pease said.

The county health department contacted the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to coordinate a visit to the site one month later. On the back portion of the property, officials found a mattress, appliances, tricycles, milk jugs, metal siding, and, ironically, a trash can had been tossed along a 100-foot stretch of the ravine.

Debra Henricks said that as a child she remembered trash being thrown on the slope of the ravine to prevent erosion, which would eat up the farm land that bordered the top. But at some point the ravine became a dumping ground, with even strangers going onto the property to dump trash, she said.

Henricks, who has owned the property since 2008, told state officials that she lives on a fixed income and could not afford to clean up the site but would let people come on her property to clean up the ravine. Republic Services helped with the cleanup and hauled away the equivalent of more than 45 large pickup loads of trash, according

to a news release from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Republic Services started cleaning up the ravine in October but had to postpone the completion due to winter weather. The effort was finished in March. The costs for the cleanup were donated by the trash removal company, according to the news release.

The dumping is considered a violation of a state environmental statute but not a crime. A fine can be issued for the violation but wasn’t in this instance. Because Henricks did not have the money to pay for cleanup, it is unlikely she would have been able to pay the fine either, said Barry Sneed, an IDEM spokesman.

The trash dumped into the ravine did not pose a serious health threat because most of it was dumped on the banks and did not include chemicals. The area was more of an eyesore, Pease said.

“We get complaints from people that see truckloads of trash that get dumped into a property,” Sneed said. “As far as volume from a residential property, this is more than normal.”

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