Tom Ross: Dumpster poaching is not a victimless crime in Steamboat Springs |

Tom Ross: Dumpster poaching is not a victimless crime in Steamboat Springs

— I was checking the progress of the drumsticks on the propane grill Monday evening when I heard a hollow metallic bang. I immediately knew what it meant: another case of dumpster poaching in Steamboat.

Somebody was illegally unloading a large piece of trash in a big construction dumpster they were not entitled to. And it was going to cost someone money.

Because dumpster poaching is not a victimless crime.

When it's springtime in the Rockies, people are coming and going from rental housing, and an empty dumpster is a temptation to those who don't want to bear the extra expense and inconvenience of taking unwanted items to the landfill.

On Monday, I craned my neck around the corner of the building just in time to see a diesel pickup I did not recognize pulling away from the big rollaway construction dumpster. I've reached the conclusion that there are people in Steamboat who keep an eye out for new buildings in the process of being framed and mark them as easy poaching. Show up at dusk, act like it's nobody's business and be on your way. Problem solved.

But there is a problem. A big construction dumpster costs hundreds of dollars. So, filling someone else's dumpster is a crime — specifically, a municipal misdemeanor that can result in a summons to appear in municipal court, Steamboat Springs Police Department Sgt. Scott Middleton confirmed this week.

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"It certainly happens," Middleton said. "Last week, I took a call on Medicine Springs (Drive). We get a couple of calls a week at least. It is against the municipal code. If the reporting party wants to press charges, we charge (the offender) with illegal dumping."

I should come clean right now and confess: I am certain that at times in the past, I have flipped a used paper coffee cup or balled up sandwich wrapper into someone else's dumpster. I plead guilty.

But there's a difference between a Snickers wrapper and a dilapidated washer and dryer set.

As the truck accelerated away from the construction dumpster in my neighborhood this week, I grabbed my camera and dashed down the stairs and out the front door to see the pickup heading for the highway. I jotted down a license plate number but couldn't be certain I read it correctly, so I chucked it and strolled over to the big blue rollaway dumpster to find out what Santa Claus had brought this time.

What I saw when I peered over the rim of the dumpster was a busted up futon with striped upholstery. It wasn't just illegal, it was in bad taste.

Police Capt. Jerry Stabile said a number of people in Steamboat are locking their dumpsters these days.

Donna Mae Hoots knows how that goes. She is the property manager for the Pines Condominiums, where a couple of the three dumpsters in the complex are right next to Pine Grove Road.

"It's constant at the Pines. It's ridiculous," Hoots said. "Especially if they're recycling, they think they're doing good for the environment. But if we have so many people illegally dumping, our residents have to pay for it."

Hoots has seen the Pines go through two sets of dumpster locks, and though she can't swear they were deliberately destroyed, a resident reported seeing a cut cable on one of the locks. That's a determined poacher.

Steamboat Municipal Judge Paul Sachs said there is no specific schedule of fines for illegally placing discarded items in another party's dumpster. But as a littering offense, it would come under the general category, allowing him to impose a fine of as much as $999 per offense. But Sachs doesn't remember the last time he fined someone for dumpster poaching.

"I can't recall a citation for a very, very long time," Sachs said.

Has anyone considered security cameras on dumpsters?

I want my dumpster cam.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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