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THAT’S MY JOB: Environmental Crimes Deputy Paul Kowalik

Paul Kowalik, the environmental crimes deputy for the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, talks with a landowner whose property is under abatement in the northwest part of the county. An abatement, which has to be approved by the Commissioners Court, gives the county the power to clean the property and put a lien on it to recover costs. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Burnet County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Kowalik has a desk with a computer and multiple screens, but the environmental crimes officer spends most of his time patrolling unincorporated areas in his Ram 1500 pickup truck and digging through the trash.

“I respond to illegal dumpings — everything from the side of the road to private property,” he said. “Construction debris, abandoned vehicles, oils, and paints are all a huge problem.”

Kowalik has 30 years of experience in law enforcement, including 25 years as a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. For the past six years, he’s been on trash duty in Burnet County.

“I love it,” he said of the job. “It’s so satisfying to me. I had never done anything like this, and now I feel like I found my niche.” 

Since moving to Burnet County, Kowalik has become an appointed member of Emergency Services District No. 5 and serves on the Capital Area Council of Governments’ regional environmental task force. He was recently voted Favorite Law Enforcement Officer in The Picayune Magazine and KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune Locals Love Us contest.

“I like being involved in these things that keep our community and our homes and our surroundings nice,” he said. “I found my passion for that.” 

Here’s what else he had to say about his job keeping Burnet County beautiful. 

PAUL KOWALIK

Burnet County sheriff’s deputy, environmental crimes

I ENFORCE STATE LAW. In the cities, they have code enforcement. When I first started, I drove around looking for illegal dumping, but now that people know I’m here, 99 percent of what I investigate is complaint-driven. I get calls about problem areas constantly.

ANYTIME ANYONE DUMPS something on the road, I go out and climb in the garbage. I put on my gloves and get knee deep and do my research. I find something in that garbage with someone’s name on it, then I find out who did that. 

I AM THE FIRST RESPONDER, the investigator. I collect the evidence, I file the charges. In the rest of the sheriff’s office, we have a Criminal Investigation Division. For environmental crimes, I do it all. I’m the patrol deputy and CID all in one. 

WHO CLEANS IT UP DEPENDS ON WHAT IT IS. If it’s on your property, you’re responsible for it. I have some resources I can use to help you out, but, ultimately, you’re responsible. People are starting to figure out what I do, and they are starting to take their trash to the dump.

SOMETIMES, WE HAVE TO GO to the county commissioners about a property. I do a lot of research, write it up in a report, and present it to the Commissioners Court. Then, they can issue an abatement order. Eventually, if nothing’s done, the county commissioners can send a crew and equipment out there and clean it off. Then, the county attorney has to file a lien on the property to get the money reimbursed, but that takes time. The county won’t get the money until the property changes hands. 

UNTIL SIX YEARS AGO, there had never been anyone in the county to do what I do. Some of these places, it’s built up over the years. No one’s ever told them to clean it up. Part of my job is education. I research who can help and I’ll go find people to help, whether it’s scrap metal recyclers or someone who will haul off old vehicles. 

I WANT COMPLIANCE, NOT CONVICTIONS. I know cleaning up proprieties takes time, energy, and money. My goal is to get you to clean up. I want you to put your money toward cleaning up, not paying fines. I go to great lengths to help people out.

suzanne@thepicayune.com

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