Cameron County Takes on 5-Acre Property Cleanup
HARLINGEN - A massive clean-up operation got underway Monday on a property located on Dilworth Road, on the outskirts of Harlingen.
Cameron County crews stepped in after 400 violations were discovered there.
Crews on bulldozers and backhoes could be seen working to remove years' worth of piled up plastics, tires and trash.
Cameron County Commissioner Pct. 4 Gus Ruiz oversees the area of the county.
"There was all kinds of scrap metal, over 1,000 tires, plastics out here, there's about four boats, two Winnebagos - there's all kinds of junk and debris," Ruiz said. "And as you understand, all this stuff harbors rodents, rats and mosquitoes."
Ruiz is hoping "Operation Rattlesnake" will send a strong message to others using their properties as dumpsites.
"Whenever we've got a health hazard, and most people would consider this a health hazard, in particular if you are their neighbors," Ruiz said. "We mean business, and we're going to do whatever we can to fix that health hazard."
After CHANNEL 5 NEWS first reported on residents' concerns over the site, county commissioners revamped their illegal dumping ordinance to give them more authority.
They then notified the property owner, Juan Ortiz, that he had 31 days to get rid of the mess. When he failed to do so, the county took over.
Ortiz was there as the operation unfolded.
"I don't think my property was a threat," Ortiz said. "Maybe if someone lit the tires on fire, I guess so, but I wouldn't say this was a danger to others."
Ortiz admitted he was upset by what was happening. He wanted more time to clean up on his own.
Now, his only option will be to pay back what the county is investing in cleaning his property. Otherwise, there will be a lien placed on it.
Ruiz estimates the costs could reach or exceed $50,000.
"I'm going to try to keep my property clean from now on, because when they hit you in the pocket, is when it hurts. So, I have to take care of it," Ortiz said.
Environmental Health Director Gus Olivares said this is just the first site of hundreds more that need to be cleaned up in Cameron County. He added they eliminated thousands of mosquito breeding grounds.
"As you all know, we're dealing with Zika that's going on, and other diseases like Dengue and all that," Olivares said. "They are transmitted through mosquitoes. We've got to clean this up for that reason. This is the prime for these activities to happen.
At least four large bee hives were also discovered on the property. The bees were exterminated.
The cleanup is expected to last several days.