Friday, May 31, 2013

Citizens take back Tri-City hills from illegal dumpers – earn environmental praise

By Joye Redfield-Wilder

Part of Jim Coleman’s job at the Benton-Franklin Health District is to respond to solid waste complaints such as illegal dumping. When he was asked to look into complaints of garbage accumulating in the Zintel Canyon area of State Route 397 near Kennewick, Wash., he found it wouldn’t be a routine investigation.

“I was amazed at the grassroots efforts already underway. They had an extensive e-mailing list of interested parties/volunteers, a Facebook page, and had already organized several clean-up parties, and made contacts with various public organizations and land owners,” Coleman said of citizens Mike Robinson, Al Potter and Russ Burtner, who had called in the complaint.

The trio got fed up with all the garbage being dumped in an area where they had been bicycling for many years. They organized more than 50 people – other cyclists, horsemen, hikers, Jeepers, law firms, Scouts and retirees – to clean up 20 tons of garbage at more than 40 dumpsites. They enlisted a local waste hauler to take the garbage and two area tire stores to dispose of more than 400 tires for free.

Volunteers hauled away everything from personal papers to TV sets, mattresses, construction debris, an above ground pool, electronics and furniture – scattered over several miles of landscape.

On Tuesday, May 21, Robinson, Potter, Burtner and the other volunteers were honored with Environmental Excellence Awards presented by the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), during a meeting of the Kennewick City Council.

“You didn’t just complain you did something about it,” Ecology’s Central Regional Director Tom Tebb told the volunteers. “You saw that the outdoors you enjoyed was a mess and you decided to make it beautiful again. Without your participation, the area might have been closed to everyone – because of a bunch of bad-actor illegal dumpers.”

Area property owners are taking action, too. Landowners have installed security cameras and are making improvements to restrict vehicle access. Sheriff’s patrols have increased in the area. And illegal dumpers caught on camera are facing prosecution.

This is particularly important now – money to pay for litter and illegal dumping cleanups are scarce. Funds to local governments have been cut already by 30 percent. And a proposal before the current legislature would cut it to 40 percent of what we had in the 2007 biennium.

Benton Franklin Health joined Ecology’s Waste 2 Resources Program in making the nomination. It is efforts like this – voluntary community involvement that will make the difference in these times of “smaller government.” Thanks to all the recipients and citizens involved! 

Environmental Excellence Awards were presented to: Mike Robinson, Al Potter, Russ Burtner, Tim Goodman; Les Schwab Tire Stores - Andy Walker/Clearwater; Les Schwab Tire Stores - Rick Giddings/Columbia Center; Windermere Real Estate - Dave Retter; Waste Management - Jeff Wheatle; Help U Move - Russ Pogue; Flynn, Merriman & McKennon Law Firm- Jay Flynn; and JMS Inspections - James Sexton.
See more photos in Flickr

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