Nearly 100 volunteers cleared 26,600 pounds of debris from a strip of private property south of Monroe along the Skykomish River on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The garbage was largely a result of homeless encampments, the occupants of which were issued a no-trespassing order by property owner Dale Reiner in December. Neighboring property owner Paula Peak had issued a complaint to the Washington Department of Ecology in November.
Peak said she and her husband had seen criminal and concerning activity related to the encampments for years. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office began doing regular walkthroughs last December. The Snohomish County Health District sent an employee out that month to assess the area, but was unable to thoroughly because homeless people were still residing there.
A Snohomish County Health District health officer’s order issued Monday, Feb. 13, led to the Feb. 25 cleanup effort.
RiverJunky — a Silver Lake-based service organization that calls on volunteers to clean up rivers worldwide — led the effort that took just more than two hours to complete. Founder Jarrod Kirkley said the group has cleaned up a number of similar sites along the Puyallup River.
“That should give people an idea of how much trash is in our rivers,” he said.
The event was very successful, Kirkley said. Coordinators scouted the area before the crowds arrived. They preemptively picked up as many hypodermic needles as they could find during the preparatory sweep.
“We knew it was bad in there,” Kirkley said. “It was infested with needles, and there was some human waste.” He added, afterward, “there wasn’t a cigarette butt on the ground; it was spotless.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Ian Huri said previously that sheriff’s deputies, with help from their embedded social workers, tried to connect anyone staying in the camps with services at Reiner’s request. Between 8-10 people were found be living there permanently. There were likely many more coming and going to buy and use drugs, he said.
Once people cleared the encampment, Reiner was responsible for clearing out any leftover debris. District health officer and director Gary Goldbaum issued his order last month because the “situation constitutes a violation of public health statutes and must be corrected,” and, despite notices, the materials had not been removed.
Huri and a number of other deputies assisted during the Feb. 25 cleanup. He said everything was carried out in two dumpsters and one truck. Safety personnel walked around with sharps containers, so people could properly dispose of needles. Gloves were provided, and unsafe areas were tagged ahead of time. RiverJunky’s hazmat certified volunteers were also on hand, he said.
Huri said what was picked up was “pretty much what we expected.” There were bicycles and bike parts, old rotted cloth, old clothing, blankets, mattresses, propane tanks, but “nothing real shocking — nothing that made us really scratch our heads,” he said.
All the credit goes to RiverJunky, Huri said. The group is taking off. A homeless woman from Enumclaw who heard about the event participated in the big clean up, and other volunteers came from as far as Wenatchee, he said.
Kirkley said he has 23,000 volunteers in Washington, 17,000 in Oregon, hundreds in California and throughout the U.S., and now some in Australia are helping preserve tributaries in the name of RiverJunky. The group was established in 2016.
Jefferson Ketchel, environmental health division director, said a health district officer walked the property after the Feb. 25 clean up, remarking “it was exceptionally clean.” No further action will be taken in the case, he said.
Reiner provided dumpsters and allowed volunteers to park on his adjoining fields for the clean up, Huri said.
“The job went just fine,” Reiner said. “Everything got cleaned up exactly the way it should have been; everything got done fine.”
Reiner said he is concentrated on the fact that the area is now clean, which was done safely and efficiently. He said he feels there was misinformation disseminated regarding the situation. Reiner was given 15 days to clean the property once the health officer’s order was issued, and complied.
The Washington State Department of Transportation cleaned up a right of way beneath the bridge that had materials left over from homeless encampments prior to RiverJunky event.