Not My Trash

(WSVN) - Someone dumps trash on your property. Guess who gets the warning and fine that follows? Not the dumper — the property owners! It’s been happening to one church for decades. To clean things up once and for all, they turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When the founders at Mishkan T’Hillah Tabernacle were looking for a home 30 years ago, they prayed for guidance.

Etta Harbin, Mishkan T’Hillah Tabernacle of Praise: “One day, the Lord told me to ride around here, and sure enough, I saw a sign, and they only wanted $80,000. I was so excited.”

Etta and her late husband Wilbur’s congregation bought the property, and each Sunday, the parishioners have prayed for help for the poor, the sick and the elimination of the trash.

Etta Harbin: “Ongoing illegal dumping for 20 years, and so we’re exhausted at this time.”

The congregation is lucky to own a long stretch of land on both sides of 167th Terrace.

Etta Harbin: “Several boats that had been left here abandoned.”

Unlucky that illegal dumpers see the quiet road as a great place to unload their trash.

Etta Harbin: “Furnishings. Construction materials.”

When the trash is dumped on the side of the road, Miami-Dade County goes after the church.

Etta Harbin: “Well, the last fine was between $500 to $600.”

And Etta says the fine is just the beginning…

Etta Harbin: “And we pay that fine. We clean it up, and we pay for it, and it just continues.”

Year after year, Sunday after Sunday.

Etta Harbin: “Oh, my God, it’s got to be in the thousands.”

The county has told Etta not to confront the dumpers, so church members take pictures.

Etta Harbin: “We’ve gotten a lot of tag numbers, and so nothing happens. It’s just a regular dumping spot.”

Frustrated that the county doesn’t do anything, some of Etta’s parishioners have confronted the dumpers.

Etta Harbin: “And some of the men of the church approached him, and he said, ‘I’ve been doing this for years. I always dump here,’ so they know where to dump, and that’s where they dump.”

Church on Sunday. Dumping during the week. It’s now become a tradition.

Etta Harbin: “I want to know why is it that we’re held responsible for someone else’s bad actions?”

Well Howard, legally, shouldn’t the person illegally unloading trash be punished instead of the property owner?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “Legally, the dumper should be fined, but the county can’t catch them or prove it, so they go after the easy target: the property owner. It’s not fair, but it’s the only way the government can get the mess cleaned up by forcing the property owner to do it.”

We contacted Miami-Dade Solid Waste, and they responded quickly.

They waived the outstanding fines that had been issued to the church, and they put up five signs to warn dumpers.

They also linked Etta up with a specific code enforcement officer to help move quickly if there are more incidents and to help advise the church. Finally, the church will now be able to catch the crooks. They are installing cameras to record illegal dumping.

Etta Harbin: “Our prayers have been answered, thanks to Dade waste. I’m telling you, they were so helpful.”

Leaving Etta’s parishioners to now focus their prayers on other people’s problems.

Etta Harbin: “I am absolutely thrilled that I called Help Me Howard — such a weight lifted. When Help Me Howard came, the entire congregation just said, ‘Oh, now we can exhale.”

Glad we could help, and someone asked me, “Why doesn’t the government clean up the illegal trash?” Because it’s on private property, the landowner has to do it, and while code enforcement can’t arrest the dumpers, with that video the church will now have, the cops can use it to slap the cuffs on the crooks.

Got a problem dumped in your lap? Feel you don’t have a prayer of solving it? Let us be of service and throw your trouble in the trash.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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