By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Three dump trucks hauling more than six tons of garbage cleared a stretch of road east of Riverton last week, cleaning up an area where illegally-dumped trash is so prolific, it’s part of the landscape.
Wyoming Department of Transportation maintenance crews from Riverton removed the trash from the portion of Gas Hills Road that’s under state jurisdiction – that is, the road and its shoulders leading up to the fence.
Beyond the fence line lay tribal lands of the Wind River Indian Reservation, plus public lands – and a lot more garbage.
Six men packed three eight-yard dump trucks with 12,280 pounds of washers, dryers, furniture, and other household trash over the course of one workday, according to Cody Beers, a senior public relations specialist with WYDOT.
Beyond labor and equipment costs, the fees to dump the trash totaled $308, an expense paid with tax funds – diverting money that would ordinarily be spent on snowplowing, highway patching, fence mending, and other highway maintenance functions, Beers said.
“We need more help, and this is a chronic problem east of Riverton,” said Beers, although he added that illegal dumping is also a problem elsewhere in the state.
While adopt-a-highway programs are available to groups for large fall and spring cleanups, Beers said a simpler approach — and one that is just as important — is for people not to litter in the first place.
“What do we do when nobody’s looking?” Beers asked. “Do we open the window and pitch that garbage out the window, or do we drive to the next town and put it in a trash bin?
“If you love Wyoming,” he said, “you’re doing the latter.”
At nearly any campsite, public road or trail, said Beers, people likely can find garbage to pick up and take to a trash bin.
State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, has addressed the topic of illegal dumping on the Wind River Indian Reservation repeatedly as co-chair of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations.
Conversations between state, county, tribal and federal solid waste entities on the reservation garbage problem have been ongoing for roughly a decade, according to news archives.
Ellis suggested during an August meeting of the committee that the state look at blacklisting from state projects any contractors who dump work waste illegally.
“If we… (created) a list of vendors who, if they’re discovered to have illegally dumped in Wyoming – anywhere – including the reservation, they’re ineligible and precluded from ever getting a state contract,” began Ellis, “(would) something like that be helpful?”
Jordan Dresser, who chairs the Northern Arapaho portion of the Wind River Intertribal Council, said that “would be a really good thing.”
Ellis could not be reached by phone to comment further Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning.
Household or Industrial
Beers noted that all of the six tons of trash WYDOT crews found along the Gas Hills Road, was household trash, such as appliances. He did not discover evidence at the site of industrial debris such as what might be left by contractors.
“I’m not aware of any contractor stuff,” said Beers, adding that from what he’s seen, “I believe our contractors are very responsible in this state.”
In his own brief interview Verlin Timbana, director of Wind River Intertribal Solid Waste, said he’s caught contractors red-handed dumping their trash on the reservation, which is outside WYDOT’s purview.
Andy Frey, Fremont County Solid Waste director, confirmed that like Beers, he hasn’t seen industrial dumping in the Gas Hills area. But Frey added he’s heard of industrial and household dumping alike in more isolated portions of the reservation.
Frey noted that Ellis’ committee has been working on project to finance cleanup crews on the reservation.
“I would hope that this project comes together,” Frey said. “It’s much needed. I hope, further, that there is a plan put into place to ensure these kinds of illegal dumping activities do not continue into the future, post-cleanup.”