OKEECHOBEE – Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen held a press conference on April 24 to announce the beginning of a tri-county operation to crack down on speeding dump trucks heading to the Okeechobee landfill operated by Waste Management.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder and Florida Highway Patrol Captains Steven Gove and Ryan Lloyd have all committed resources to what the Okeechobee Sheriff’s Office is calling “Operation Weight Watchers”.
The increased enforcement in eastern Okeechobee County and western Martin and Palm Beach Counties will monitor not only the speed but also the weight of the trucks, as overloaded trucks can be another deadly factor in causing traffic accidents.
Sheriff Stephen said Waste Management estimates over 1,200 trucks are making trips into Okeechobee County daily, with the majority carrying contaminated soil from the Ft Lauderdale Port dredging project in Miami-Dade County.
Drivers are paid by the amount of tonnage delivered, and Sheriff Stephen believes this leads to a situation where drivers will push the limits of what the law allows to increase their pay.
“I feel a large amount of these haulers are breaking the law and do not care,” said Sheriff Stephen at the press conference. “My opinion is based upon my continued enforcement results of these haulers coming to and from the Okeechobee landfill coupled with the number of complaints received from my residents who reside along the road to the landfill.”
Residents along the road to the landfill, Berman Road, have complained of trucks not stopping for school buses, passing in no passing zones, not stopping for stop signs and pulling out in front of oncoming traffic.
Sheriff Stephen didn’t hide his anger when the issue of trucks speeding past school buses was raised.
“I can’t lay there at night and sleep knowing anybody is at risk, especially our children,” Sheriff Stephen continued. “There’s no excuse when a parent can record a video of one of these trucks running past a stop arm while their child is trying to get on the bus. There’s no excuse whatsoever.”
Operation Weight Watchers kicked off at 6 a.m. on April 24 and deputies didn’t have to wait long to make their first stop.
Sheriff Stephen reported that at 6:20 a.m. a truck was stopped that was hauling waste that weighed approximately 105,000 pounds, which is 25,000 pounds over the 80,000 pound limit.
Something that could help slow down truckers might be the very same thing that’s causing them to speed in the first place - money. Stricter fines and increased fees could dissuade truckers financially from taking the risks involved with speeding and overloading trucks.
“It’s clear to me they don’t care, it’s all about the dollar,” said Sheriff Stephen. “It’s obvious to me as the law enforcement in this county that the fines and fees are not nearly enough to get their attention.”
Waste Management has agreed to pay for 24 hours per week to send an off-duty deputy from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office out to conduct traffic enforcement along the 10-mile stretch the trucks use to reach the landfill.
Operation Weight Watchers is scheduled to be a continued effort for law enforcement in the area.
“I hope to get the attention of these companies and drivers before someone gets hurt,” Sheriff Stephen said in closing. “I will continue enforcement in the area, and elsewhere throughout our county, to assure the safety of our citizens to the best of my ability.