Community effort cleans up notorious dumping site

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POWNAL — A brigade of volunteers has once again carted away a mound of bulky, nasty refuse from Pownal's infamous Indian Massacre Road dumping site.

The difference this time, organizers say, is that they see ways to gain an upper hand in the ongoing battle against illegal dumping along rural roads — a challenge that towns all over Vermont face as well.

"It's a beautiful spot and an historic site," said Megan Randall, co-chairwoman of the community group, Pownal Proud, which also organized a cleanup effort at the site in 2015.

Nevertheless, she said, some people think nothing of depositing bags of garbage, large appliances like stoves and refrigerators, televisions, building materials and that ubiquitous staple of backwoods dumping, used auto tires.

After a morning-long effort on Nov. 4, involving three dozen volunteers with trucks and trailers, the area looks much closer to its natural wooded state, Randall said, adding, "We do feel we've made a lot of progress."

Also involved were members of the Hoosic River Watershed Association (HooRWH), as Indian Massacre Road parallels Route 346 and the Hoosic River in North Pownal and Petersburgh, N.Y., as well as students from Mt. Anthony Union middle and high schools, Pownal Elementary and Southshire Community School.

"This was a really nice example of community groups coming together to get something done," Randall said.

"With pick ax, shovel, winches, chains and four-wheelers, we hauled 4,900 pounds of truly nasty trash out of the woods, including a soggy armchair, numerous moldering mattresses, a toilet, construction waste, assorted car body parts, used diapers and 45 tires," Randall said. "As one high schooler said of illegal dumpers: 'Why would anyone do this?'"

The closest landowners, a large dairy farm on the New York side of the border, "are also very frustrated," she said. "He has an immaculate farm."

Town Health Inspector Jim Gilbert, who has long advocated stronger efforts to deter dumping, said it took less than two years for a cleaned-up site along Indian Massacre Road to become heavily trashed over once again.

Steep roadside banks in some spots made the work arduous at times, Gilbert said, "but everybody had a good time — even though it was a messy job. We got a lot done, and that road looks so much better now."

He gave special thanks to the dozen or so students who assisted the effort, saying he sent letters of praise to the principals of the schools involved. "This was really a major, major effort," he said.

Next, Gilbert said, cleanup organizers hope to secure grant funding for some surveillance cameras for the site to help identity dumpers and some signs to warn would-be dumpers that they are being watched.

"We want to put up some cameras so we can catch some people dumping and then fine them," he said.

Gilbert said the problem is not limited to the Indian Massacre Road site in Pownal. As health inspector, he said he keeps a pair of heavy gloves in his vehicle so he can check any bags of trash he finds to search it for clues as to where it originated.

He knows that just finding an envelope address is not enough to accuse someone of roadside dumping or littering, but the odds would improve significantly if the town could produce photos or video of illegal dumping in progress.

Interestingly, Gilbert said that in going through garbage bags for clues, "I have never found anything from Pownal — it's either from New York or Massachusetts."

According to Sean McVeigh, chief of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's enforcement division, "There really is no easy answer and no easy fix on this. It really comes down to knowing who did it."

In that regard, McVeigh said in a telephone interview that surveillance cameras could make the difference in pursuing fines against violators, but he didn't know of any state source of grant funding for cameras.

McVeigh said the enforcement division (http://dec.vermont.gov/enforcement/contacts) can offer assistance on dumping issues and can be reached at 802-828-1254.

"We would be happy to work with them," he said, adding that "this is a violation that happens all across the state."

Any law enforcement officer in Vermont also can seek a fine of up to $500 for littering, McVeigh said.

Michael Batcher, Solid Waste Program manager with the Bennington County Regional Commission and adviser to the Bennington County Solid Waste Alliance (www.bcswavt.org), agreed that many towns struggle with the roadside dumping issue.

Among other approaches to deal with the problem is one that Pownal and other towns have used, Batcher said, in offering a "free dump day" periodically at the transfer station for garbage and/or some of the items like tires, mattresses, appliances or electronics that normally require a fee per item.

For instance, it can cost someone $15 or more dollars to drop a mattress off at a transfer station, and posted prices for disposing of tires show they can cost anywhere from $2 to more than $20 each, depending on the tire size.

"I don't think anyone has come up with a completely successful effort to help people get rid of the stuff," he said, in part because residents often aren't aware of their options for reducing costs.

He said every time the solid waste alliance holds a hazardous household waste collection day, some people typically call the following day asking when one will be scheduled.

"People just have to keep up with it," Batcher said of efforts to reduce roadside dumping and keep roadsides clean.

For her part, Randall said Pownal Proud is willing to also take on other backwoods dump sites in town and would like to hear from residents with suggestions in that regard. Email her at megan.randall2@gmail.com.

In addition, she said residents are being asked to "adopt" a section of roadway and volunteer to monitor it and keep it free of litter.

"I think it is important for people to realize that this is not futile," Randall said.

Gilbert said he was encouraged recently after having a more heart-warming roadside dumping experience. He said that after picking up a garbage bag along Route 346 across the highway from his house, he found an address in Berlin, N.Y. He jumped in his car and drove there, eventually dropping off the bag near the person's mail box with a note since no one was at home.

A while later, a woman called him, Gilbert said.

"She was terribly upset" he said. "She said she didn't know how her trash had ended up near my house, and I got a very nice letter of apology, along with a $25 donation to the town library."

He said he told the Select Board the woman deserved to be commended.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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