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Insult to injury: Trash atop garbage

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | July 22, 2021 1:09 AM

Resident photos and complaints of continued garbage overflow at rural waste collection sites could lead to hefty repercussions as county staff consider measures to combat unlawful dumping. 

"It's been an epic summer for abuse," Solid Waste Director JP Phillips told commissioners at a Monday meeting. 

Kootenai County operates 12 rural residential sites to reach communities' unserved disposal collection facilities like those in cities. Unlike the county transfer stations, rural locations collect only household refuse like sweepings, paper, bottles and food waste.  

They are not, Phillips emphasized, contracted for large, commercial or hazardous materials. Those must be disposed of at either the Ramsey or Prairie transfer station. 

Phillips said rural garbage is up 14%, partially from wood debris from the Jan. 13 windstorm, construction and landscaping. Still, that hasn't stopped individuals from overflowing bins and littering the ground with materials.

Holidays like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and July 4 are typically when they "observe the most abuse," he said. 

"The sites are at their worst when every container is beyond full. It looks like an ice cream cone. We call it a haystack when the garbage is overflowing in every container," Phillips said. "People drive up, see it, and still choose to put items on the ground hoping the county will take care of it."  

In a document sent to the department on July 2 by a longtime resident, pictures of the Wolf Lodge containers near Interstate 90 were bursting with trash. Behind the five containers, visibly stuffed with furniture, appliances and household items was a backdrop of North Idaho's green tree line.

"This is so sad to see," a statement underneath the photos reads. "The beauty of North Idaho with the disgusting behavior and trash of man." 

Since a Press article depicted the county struggles with unlawful dumping in June, Phillips said the department is considering several measures to combat the uptick in refuse disposal. 

Recently, the solid waste department spent between about $1,500 on stickers to label each bin, Phillips told the commissioners. 

"This site is under review. Please help keep this disposal site open! NO DUMPING ON GROUND, NO COMMERCIAL DUMPING," a sticker at the Mica Flats site on Kidd Island road states. 

"We want buy-in from the community to pay attention to who is dumping what," Phillips said. "It would be nice if residents can snap a picture or give us a call about commercial vehicles they see." 

Though the stickers haven't solved the problem, Phillips said more residents are sending photos and turning violators in for improper dumping. 

One of those individuals is Jim Magnuson, a resident and attorney who has lived near the Mica Flats site for 25 years. In a July 14 letter to commissioners, Magnuson said he frequently sees contractors and companies dumping material in the dumpsters. 

In a follow-up email on July 19, Magnuson included photos from July 16 of individuals emptying a landscape and construction waste trailer — prohibited materials at rural sites. Pictures from the following day showed the individuals left some of the materials on the ground. 

"If someone from the County were to spend a small amount of time enforcing the rules, the word would get around that rules need to be complied with, and unlawful use of the dumpsters would be minimized," Magnuson said in the July 14 email. "Demand for payment of a fine for violations would go a long ways to stopping the majority of the problem of unlawful dumping."

Magnuson told the department "it would be more appropriate to punish the scofflaws than the taxpaying users."

The solid waste system is intended only for Kootenai County citizens who have paid the annual solid waste fee. Homeowners' substantial waste fees "are being used every time a commercial business uses the rural system for disposal," the county website states.

Phillips said that with good photo evidence submitted by residents like Magnuson, the department has issued letters or called dumpster abusers.

In extreme cases, Phillips said he had called companies about potential penalties if the violations continue and turned that information in to the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office.

KCSO is working with the department to discuss the possibility of ticket violations and site improvements, Phillips said. 

Some methods the department is considering as part of a five-year plan to address site issues include:

• Camera and fencing installation 

• Limiting hours of operation 

• Law enforcement patrolling 

• Consolidating sites

• Staffing locations

• Property acquisition 

"Residents can help keep sites open by reporting commercial dumping and doing their part in not placing any materials outside the dumpster on the ground," Phillips said. 

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Images from a resident near Wolf Lodge Bay shows a mounting pile of trash in front of the North Idaho tree line. Photo courtesy the Kootenai County Solid Waste Department.

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Images from Jim Magnuson show individuals who appear to be contractors leaving landscape waste on the ground near rural collection sites. Photo courtesy Jim Magnuson.