Environmental crimes deputies seek compliance over citations, commissioners hear

Burnet County Commissioners Court

Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall looked over property plats during the Commissioners Court meeting January 28. Commissioners approved a number of plat and replat requests. The Burnet County Sheriff’s Office environmental crimes deputies also gave an update on their work. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Compliance, not convictions.

That’s how the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office environmental crimes deputies and Burnet County commissioners summed up the underlying mission of the two-man unit.

“These guys want to have compliance over convictions because compliance means it gets cleaned up,” said Burnet County Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle.

BCSO Deputy Paul Kowalik gave a breakdown of his and fellow environment Deputy Jason Jewett’s calls and work since July 2019. Kowalik’s report went back to July 2019 while Jewett’s went back to October 2019 when he first joined the BCSO. During their time in the environmental crimes unit, the two have handled 300 calls.

In September 2018, Burnet County created the environmental crimes deputy position, the first one in the state. The county was able to add a second position in 2019. The positions are grant-funded.

Kowalik told commissioners that illegal dumping is the most common call, but it’s not just people throwing trash onto the side of county roads. It could be trash piled up in someone’s yard.

“That’s one of our biggest problems,” the deputy said, “what people have accumulated in their yards.”

Other problems with which the two routinely deal are old tires piling up and junk vehicles.

But instead of immediately writing a citation and sending the responsible party to court, the deputies first try to educate the person and get them to take care of the issue. Kowalik told commissioners that when they contact a person or property owner and outline the problem and help find a solution, the responsible parties often take corrective actions.

Sometimes, Kowalik said, it’s just letting people know where they can take trash or other items for proper disposal. The county holds collections such as BOPATE (Batteries, Oil, Paint, Antifreeze, Tires, and Electronics) where people can drop off those items. Kowalik said the last one in October made a difference.

Of the 300 calls to which two deputies have responded, they have filed 26 reports with only six landing citations. Kowalik has arrested three people since July 2019 for environmental crimes, so the system does have some teeth.

With environmental crimes the main task for Kowalik and Jewett, the two can follow up with those calls to see if progress is being made. Burnet County Judge James Oakley pointed out that’s been a great help in making sure property owners or responsible parties actually clean up the area in question.

Kowalik agreed.

“We can do the followup,” the deputy said. “You don’t want to give it to other deputies who have tons of other things to do.”

Beierle said he’s noticed a difference since the environmental crimes deputies joined the sheriff’s office. And it’s not just properties about which the deputies get complaints, the commissioner said. He noted that when a property gets cleaned up, other nearby property owners seem to take action on their own if they have accumulated too much stuff.

“Having you two officers in place is a dream come true,” Oakley said.

In other action, the commissioners approved:

  • allowing Precinct 4 crews to assist the Marble Falls Rodeo Association in the demolition of restrooms at the rodeo arena;
  • and applying for a state grant benefiting the 33rd and 424th Jurisdictional Districts Drug Court Program.

The Burnet County Commissioners Court meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month (unless rescheduled) at 9 a.m. at the Burnet County Courthouse, 220 S. Pierce St. in Burnet.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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