Deb Jones: Trashing our Oregon

As garbage piles up in Willamina and elsewhere we're in danger of losing something precious. 

When I first sat down to write this, I was angry.

We have lived in Willamina, near the Park-and-Ride lot and the junction of of Highways 18 and 22, for more than over 20 years. We are actually in Polk county, but abut Yamhill County, state highway right of way and federal Bureau of Land Management holdings.

We moved here because we loved being close to wildlife, the river and the mountains. But over the past five years, the beauty of the area has been tarnished.

It is rapidly becoming a free-for-all dump site. We're collecting RVs, travel trailers and cars; mattresses and console TVs; stoves and grills; sofas and recliners; and the occasional washing machine.

About two months ago, yet another abandoned travel trailer showed up. It sat there taunting me every day on my way back and forth to work.

Bags of garbage began to pile up around it. My husband and I, and a neighbor, all saw someone stopping in a black pickup to remove things from the trailer.

I got a picture that included the license plate and reported it to Polk County Sheriff's Office. But nothing happened.

Eventually the trash and trailer were set afire. The burned remnants were then set off by yellow police tape. And there they remain, taped off but not removed.

Meanwhile, the Willamina Park-and-Ride lot has been serving as a makeshift homeless camp for months.

It makes me angry. Why aren't local codes enforced?

There seems to be some kind of twisted game being played by the Oregon Department of Transportion and the two counties.

Tag, you're it. We pushed it over the line so now it's someone else's problem.

The other day, two stories came across the news feed on my phone, one on the growing trash problem in downtown Portland and the other on Portland's plunge down the list of the nation's most livable cities. It doesn't make me feel any better, but does make me realize this is a statewide problem, not just a problem unique to my Willamina neighborhood.

When I first moved here, I would load my dogs up in my SUV take them out on BLM property to pick up trash. It was my way of paying back my gratitude for living in such a beautiful place.

But the trash gradually grew heavier and heavier. We'd find animal parts, used syringes, used condoms and human waste.

My husband asked me to stop. It wasn't worth endangering our health. And this was before the time of COVID.

I was taught that when you pointed out a problem, you had an obligation to also suggest a solution. But this is bigger than me.

I realize my anger at ODOT and the Polk and Yamhill county sheriff's offices is misplaced. Their hands are tied as much as mine.

I can only imagine the thousands they've already spent towing abandoned vehicles from our neighborhood. And towing companies often refuse them anymore, as no junkyard will accept them. So where do you take them after they've been towed?

My neighbor and I have discussed organizing a neighborhood cleanup day. We wondered if we could we get people to help pay for the Dumpsters.

This was followed by the thought, would that just encourage more dumping? And this is the time of COVID, another limitation.

Much of the trash is disgusting. It isn't fair to expect either volunteers or county employees to pick it up without proper gear and training. Many of these ad hoc dump sites are legitimately hazardous.

I'm asking our elected officials at all levels to recognize that we're losing something precious.

Oregon has always been known for its natural beauty. But a neighbor's daughter who came back to visit after a year's absence couldn't believe the trail of trash she encountered on the way from the Portland airport to Willamina.

This is bigger than any one neighborhood or volunteer group can tackle. I'm willing to roll my sleeves up, get dirty and donate my time, as are others I know, if someone can provide some leadership and a path to solutions.

Deb Jones has been lucky enough to spend her entire life in close proximity to wild places graced by rivers, lakes, mountains and forests. She wants to keep it that way, which has inspired her to mount a crusade against littering and iillegal dumping near her rural West Albany home. She said she’s been influenced by friends, relatives and teachers, who taught her reverence for the earth and its natural beauty.




Growing up in Oregon the fear of God was instilled in me that there was a $200 fine for littering in Oregon. I could see Tom McCall shaking his finger in my face. I saw the litter fine signs along the highway on the way to grandma's in Milwaukie. What happened to the "Keep Oregon Green" signs? I even worked on litter patrol one summer during high school. I had a new respect for littering and seeing it still makes me angry. I pick it up along our country road. I don't want to see it. I also have considered making a sign that says "If it comes from the back of your pick-up it's still LITTER!" It all stems back to selfishness. Litterbug's time is much more important than mine. Heaven forbid they use their money for a trip to the dump. I think there should be a reward for turning in a pig who dumps their garbage. Make it a BIG campaign. "Take a photo - send it in.... REWARD!" could be their slogan. I'd set up cameras on our farm if I could get a reward for catching someone littering! Then the punishment should be Litter patrol duty on the weekends for year. That would deter them!


Ms. Jones is correct. This problem has become too big to be solved by polite requests and volunteers. Those who would listen to requests are usually already disposing of their trash in the right way and the burden for cleanup is often too much for volunteers, and it's a misplaced burden anyway. It's time to institute some serious fines and enforcement. Traffic fines are issued with data from surveillance cameras. Why not use similar technology to levy fines for illegal dumping? Although I do (and will) still try to do my part in picking up trash I see and as a volunteer in SOLVE cleanups, I would love to see local or state government implement a better, more comprehensive solution.

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