Sanders County deals with illegal dumping

by Chuck Bandel
| July 30, 2020 5:53 PM

One person’s garbage is not always another person’s treasure.

In fact, illegal refuse dumping is creating a messy problem for Sanders County waste management officials who say residents of Mineral County and those living in areas bordering the Heron facility in the northwest corner of the county are becoming a troublesome, even threatening burden.

In recent weeks, Kathy Conlin, of the Board of Commissioners office, said the problem has grown.

“We have had an ongoing situation at the Plains and Heron waste transfer sites where some people in other counties will pose as residents of Sanders County and dump their garbage at one of our Sanders County sites,” Conlin said. “We do not have the manpower, room or trucks to handle the increased dumping.”

As a result the county recently ran an ad in the Valley Press warning those who dump illegally will be prosecuted. Surveillance systems have been installed to help catch those responsible.

What makes the situation even worse, Conlin said, is the rude and even threatening behavior of non-county residents who are denied use of Sanders County facilities.

“Some of these people are even treating the workers at those sites pretty badly,” she said. “Workers have been yelled at, flipped off and threatened and some people are just driving up to the gates and dumping their garbage outside the facility boundaries.”

The county, Conlin said, has been working to find a solution, including contacting officials in other counties, such as Mineral County, which uses Republic Services and has limited, fee-based disposal sites.

Sanders County is also considering developing a permitting system that would charge out of county residents a fee for using a county waste facility.

Sanders residents pay for the system through a tax assessment. Because of the current illegal dumping situation, those with out of county license plates may soon be required to produce proof of Sanders County residency when they use the transfer facilities.

In Sanders County, garbage collected at sites like Plains and Heron is transferred to the county’s new transfer station in Thompson Falls where it is then shipped to Missoula for disposal.

Conlin said county employees working at the refuse sites during hours the facilities are not open for dumping have been verbally abused many times in recent months by out of county residents who sometimes throw their trash over the fence or gate and drive off after shouting obscenities at the workers.

“We just don’t have room to store other people’s garbage,” she said.

At the Plains disposal site, county worker Jesse Lentz said he has witnessed some of the abusive behavior firsthand.

“If we are inside the closed gates doing work other than accepting trash some of the people will yell at us and leave their garbage behind,” he said.

Fellow employee Ben Bewick said he too has experienced the bad behavior and says most often it is from people driving vehicles with Lake or Mineral county numbered license plates.

When asked if he was aware of the problem, Paradise resident Tom Robbins, who was throwing bags of garbage from his truck into one of the Plains site’s collection bins shook his head in disbelief.

“That’s just not right”, he said of those who would abuse the system. “But I can tell you, it does not surprise me.”