Mr. Johnson said the area has been a continuous problem with the PCSO receiving multiple calls over the past year regarding illegal shooting or trash dumping.
The problem, however, is that by the time an officer gets to the area after a call has been made, the person who was seen littering or shooting has left, Mr. Johnson said.
When people litter, they know they aren’t supposed to so they often leave quickly before an officer can get to the area, even though it only takes a few minutes, he said. Trash, furniture, large appliances and enough garbage to fill a dump truck were among the items listed being seen in the area by San Tan Valley resident Cindy Wilson, who says she calls the PCSO every weekend regarding the constant dumping and shooting that takes place.
The area has gotten so bad that Ms. Wilson said she wouldn’t even walk her animals on that side of Magma.
“ There is no way to articulate how nasty it is,” said Ms. Wilson, who compared the area to a dump.
A lot of people dump things, said Mr. Johnson, who said he suspects it is one person or a group of people returning to the area again and again. He also said he suspects the people responsible could be illegal immigrants coming in and dumping their items or people just being lazy and dumping things.
It’s a convenient area for people to do that because at the county dump they have to pay to dump their items, even though it ends up costing more to clean up the mess than would originally be paid at the dump, Mr. Johnson said.
Ms. Wilson said that when she calls the sheriff ’s office she tells the dispatcher that the officers need a 4x4 to get to the area. However they sometimes send patrol cars and then they can’t get to the area where the illegal activity is allegedly taking place.
Officers have said that sometimes only patrol cars are available, she said.
The PCSO has cut down on its response time to the desert land area off of Hunt Highway due to a new substation in the area, Mr. Johnson said.
The response time has been cut in half in the last four years so it now only takes a few minutes to get to the area, Mr. Johnson said.
“It’s not legal to dump debris in the desert... we have a problem countywide with that,” said Heather Murphy, public information officer for Pinal County.
It does not surprise her that people would dump in that area, Ms. Murphy said, including that a lot of people also practice shooting in the desert.
People shoot up there every weekend using large rifles and full-automatics, said Ms. Wilson, who described the area as “dangerous” and mentioned seeing shot-up cactuses there.
Desert dumping has been a big issue for Pinal County as a whole with 101 desert dumping cases currently open, Ms. Murphy said.
The county is over 5,000 square miles.
In an effort to track down those responsible for the desert dumping, Pinal County utilizes its Environmental Investigations team, which is a part of public works.
“ They can enforce administrative codes (that) can carry fines or penalties. If enough evidence exists to pursue criminal charges, investigators will work with the Pinal County Attorney’s Office for review,” stated a press release from Pinal County regarding cases in the area.
The Environmental Investigations unit uses old envelopes, receipts and serial codes off of items to track down whom the items belonged to and who could be responsible for the dumping, Ms. Murphy said. Once the people are found, they are charged the cost to clean up the area.
While Ms. Murphy acknowledges that this technique is not successful 100 percent of the time, it has worked in the past and the county has been able to track down and force people to pay for the crime.
“People may not be aware that it is illegal to dump debris on private property, state land or open desert,” Pinal County Emergency Management Director Lou Miranda said in the press release.
“ We have limited resources that we can deploy to fix the problem,” Ms. Murphy said. “ There is a lot that we can do but the community itself has more resources than we do.”
Citizens can get together to do a community cleanup, she said. There have been some in the past that have gone over well in Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.
There is a case of desert dumping between Casa Grande and Coolidge that will cost about $10,000 to clean up, Ms. Murphy said.
Tires specifically have been a huge problem with desert dumping cases across the county because they fill with rainwater and attract bugs, Ms. Murphy said, “ We rely on others in the community to be vigilant,” Mr. Johnson said.
Residents can report any suspicious activity to the Desert Dumping/Illegal Dumping hotline at 520-866-6400.
To report desert dumping or illegal shooting near Johnson Ranch or in other areas of Pinal County, call 520-866-5111 for nonemergency dispatch.
Written by: Nora Heston