Public enemy No. 1

What’s the number one environmental health concern in Island County?

It’s illegal dumping and littering, which topped a list of 100 possible concerns explored by the Island County Environmental Health Assessment Team comprised of 15 to 24 volunteers.

The team, which reports to the Island County Board of Health, has been studying such concerns since it was formed four years ago. Now, they want to take action on their first priority.

The problem of illegal dumping is evident to anyone who drives Island County’s roads or explores its trails and forests. Gobs of garbage, aging appliances, funky furniture and decomposing cars can be found in the most pristine places, despoiling a hike in the woods or a Sunday drive.

But there’s no need for appalled people to let the debris rot or rust away in neglect. The Health Department has a program in place to see that the stuff’s disposed of properly.

This week, a walk through Dugualla state park lands on North Whidbey revealed a pile of garbage, one rusting relic of an automobile, an old stove surrounded by tall fir trees, and scattered piles of putrifying paint balls. This is all being cleaned up, thanks to Carl Stevens. He said he enjoys riding his bike and walking his dog in the area but was offended by the messes he found.

Stevens, who works on the Navy base, personally hauled 260 pounds of trash out of the woods. When he called the Health Department, he found they’d help with the heavy stuff.

If the selfish folks who illegally dump their stuff can’t be found, it’s the responsibility of the property owner to clean it up. That’s where the Health Department comes in.

Since the Dugualla property is the responsibility of Deception Pass State Park, a call was made to its manager, Jack Hartt.

“Carl (Stevens) got fed up with the stove and called the Health Department, and we required the state to get rid of it,” said Steve Hoffman, project coordinator for the Island County Environmental Health Initiative.

Hoffman commended Hartt for responding immediately, and soon there will be one less stove and one less car littering the forests of Whidbey.

Anyone can call the Health Department and see similar results, according to Hoffman. The number is 679-7350.

Katie Hicks deals with such issues for the Health Department. She said when dumped junk is reported, an effort is made to find out the perpretator but Hicks admits this effort is rarely successful. Without positive ID, it’s impossible to prove who dumped garbage or an old couch, for example.

So, practically speaking, it’s the property owner that’s responsible for removing the debris. “That’s really the unfortunate thing,” Hicks said. “So we try to find creative ways of getting it off the property.”

While Island County doesn’t have the resources to physically help with junk removal, property owners are referred to places that accept many dumped items for free. “We encourage them to recycle or take it it to a waste facility,” she said.

Removing junked automobiles is simpler now than in the past, Hicks added. She now has the authority to sign a junk vehicle affidavit, meaning a police officer is no longer required. “It’s much faster,” she said.

All it takes to get the process started is a phone call.

The county has the authority to fine property owners who won’t cooperate, but Hicks said that’s not the goal of the program and in her experience it’s never been used for isolated dumping incidents.

“That doesn’t mean the trash goes away,” she said.

Hoffman said the Envornmental Health Assessment Team is looking for new members, and he points to the renewed effort to get trash out of the woods as proof of its effectiveness.

“Members have a golden opportunity to make a difference,” he said.

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