Business steps in to clean up encampment

An article about the state of disarray on a notorious Oak Harbor property inspired one business owner to step in.

A nine-acre area off Goldie Road known as “the pit” had become the site of a number of encampments as well as somewhat of a dumping ground. The private property was owned by people who live out of state, and public officials who were aware of the situation weren’t able to do much without a formal request to do so.

Enter Melanie Patterson, who, with her brother David Mong, started the junk removal service Clutter Cops. Her Oak Harbor-based company mainly focused on estate cleanups or large furniture, appliance and yard waste removal. She hadn’t considered working at the site of former encampments until she came across a Whidbey News-Times story describing the pit.

“I thought, ‘there’s got to be a way we can do this,’” Patterson said.

She contacted the property owners through their real estate agent and asked if they were interested in having her “clutter cops” try and tackle the situation. She worked with the city and county to get access and police to ensure no one was residing there when they starting bringing in equipment, Patterson said.

Immediately, the crew hit logistical roadblocks primarily caused by the densely wooded location. Patterson said the crew had to create roads to bring in trucks and tractors for moving and hauling the debris.

It took 10 days and about 400 hours to clear all nine acres, she said. Between four and 10 employees worked on the site at a time.

Her employees found everything from treadmills to microwaves to dirty diapers. When dealing with human waste, she and her crew wore hazmat suits. The employees also wore specialty gloves and used sharps containers to pick up hypodermic needles.

“I just think the scope of it was so surprising,” said Patterson.

The amount of effort it took won’t deter her from doing similar jobs in the future, however. Encampment cleanup is now a regular service listed and provided by her company, which covers all Whidbey Island.

The junk removal industry wasn’t always the plan, she said. She had been studying computer science and her brother had a degree in chemical engineering before they started up Clutter Cops. Patterson hatched the idea after she broke her knee and needed help hauling away stuff in her house, she said, and realized maybe there was a need.

“We started with just a trailer and truck, and it just blew up,” she said.

The brother and sister duo grew up in Oak Harbor and had known there was somewhat of a garbage problem, but didn’t know to what scale, Patterson said. Since she read the article about the pit and completed the project, she’s identified more of a need.

“The article really hit a nerve with us,” she said.

“It just started a completely different path that we didn’t even know existed.