Washington State Department of Ecology - May 21, 2013

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Citizen cleanup efforts earn Environmental Excellence recognition

KENNEWICK – A group of citizens and several area businesses will be recognized today, May 21, with the state’s highest environmental excellence award for cleaning up more than 20 tons of garbage at some 40 illegal dumpsites in the hills fringing Kennewick along Highway 397.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) will present 11 awards in all promptly at 6:30 p.m. at the Kennewick City Council meeting, 210 W. Sixth Ave., Kennewick. 

The volunteers were led by mountain bikers Mike Robinson, Al Potter and Russ Burtner, who decided to do something about the garbage people were illegally dumping in the hills where they had been bicycling for many years.

Earlier this year, the trio organized cleanup crews over several weeks to pick up litter and debris found in Zintel Canyon south of Canyon Lakes. They enlisted more than 50 people, representing other bicyclists, horsemen, hikers and Jeep club members, law firms, Scouts and retirees. They also recruited 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.

“It’s refreshing and impressive to see what people can do once they put their minds to it,” said Tom Tebb, Ecology’s Central Region director. “Mike, Al and Russ didn’t wait for government to fix the problem; instead they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.”

Tebb noted it’s important for citizens to get involved, especially in these times of tight budgets where enforcement against illegal dumping takes a back seat to other more pressing crimes.

Statewide, dollars to help local governments address litter and illegal dumping have been cut by more than 30 percent in the last four years, according to Ecology’s Waste 2 Resources program that oversees waste management in the state. Proposals currently before the Legislature would reduce funding by as much as 40 percent from what was allocated in the 2007 biennium.

“We continually struggle to curb illegal dumping in the county,” said Rick Dawson, Benton-Franklin Health supervisor of the land use, sewage and water section. “Volunteers have been the key to our success and hopefully this will spur greater civic action to keep our communities clean and accessible for the recreation we all enjoy.”

In response to citizen efforts, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and local Health District have stepped up patrols in the area.

Landowner Tim Goodman has made substantial improvements to his property to restrict motor vehicle access and set up security cameras on his property at his own expense to catch illegal dumpers. Four illegal dumpers caught on camera are now facing prosecution. And other property owners are taking steps to protect their property and posting no dumping signs.

Benton Franklin Health joined Ecology’s Waste 2 Resources Program in making the nomination. 

Environmental Excellence Awards are being 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.

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Media contact:

Joye Redfield-Wilder; Ecology communications, 509-575-2610; 509-961-6277; jred461@ecy.wa.gov

Rick Dawson; Benton-Franklin Health supervisor, 509-460-4313; rickd@bfhd.wa.gov

For more information:

Ecology's Environmental Excellence Awards (www.ecy.wa.gov/environmental_excellence.htm)

See photos in Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/ecologywa/sets/72157633820286121/)

Preventing Waste (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/nav/prevent.html)

Ecology's social media (www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)