RBC I It has taken time, but the efforts to clean up illegal dump sites around Rangely will no longer be necessary in some distant future.
Last week, the cleanup equipment arrived in the form of an excavator, backhoe, welding truck, three dump trucks and approximately a dozen people from local and federal agencies. Together, people and machines tossed, lifted and hauled more than a dozen dump truck loads of trash and debris from a ravine southeast of Rangely in Gillam Draw.
The project, a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Rio Blanco County Road and Bridge Department, resurrected decades worth of cable, household furniture, appliances and tires from the 30-foot-deep ravine, which extended approximately 150 yards. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps interns helped with the cleanup.
Workers also cleared trash and appliances from an unofficial shooting range just north of the ravine and from a dump site four miles north of Rangely near County Road 1.
The combined efforts came after a county commissioners meeting and work session with the Town of Rangely, Rio Blanco County and BLM officials last summer to prioritize and clean up several illegal dump sites around Rangely.
Last fall, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Aaron Grimes, who coordinated the agencies’ efforts, completed a Categorical Exclusions (CX), a form of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, to OK the sites. The paperwork effectively bypassed the need for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.
Even though the documents were signed off on in September, further action stalled when the agencies’ 2013 budgets did not have funding allocated for the work and cold weather settled in, Grimes said.
This spring, however, the BLM’s White River Field Office received funds from the BLM Colorado State Office to clean up the material sites. The BLM transferred $5,000 to the county for heavy equipment, fuel and labor costs with Road and Bridge budgeting up to $5,000 more for additional expenses, county department director Dave Morlan said.
Last week’s project is the first of more multi-agency collaborations to clean up dump sites around Rangely. The BLM has applied for an assistance grant, renewable every five years with a $50,000 cap, to help fund similar partnerships with the county and other organizations. The amounts contributed will depend on annual budgets, special project funding and need, Grimes said.
“It’s basically a mechanism for the BLM to transfer funds to other agencies,” he said. “If we get funding from any state office, federal highways, the BLM or the White River Field Office, we can chunk in money, depending on the need … It would really smooth things out as far as funding and contributions.”
For now, Grimes said, the plan is to prioritize new cleanup sites this fall, complete the necessary paperwork and launch another major cleanup effort next spring or summer.
Morlan said the agencies will work together until major sites around Rangely are cleaned up. One highly visible dumping site, a state land board section just south of Rangely near Dragon Road, however, is on hold until state officials do something about what Morlan believes is excessive red tape — a 32-page document they expect Road and Bridge to complete.
The challenge in the Gillam Draw ravine proved to be one of scope, although the excavator and the people tossing trash up the hill to within range of the machine’s bucket removed approximately 90 percent of the debris. Huge coils of rusted cable had to be removed and segmented with a chopsaw before trucks hauled them to Vernal for recycling.
Household trash had washed into the gully, then dried and solidified into the hillside. The smaller debris proved more difficult to remove than the mattresses and wood pieces that “appeared to make up an entire building,” Grimes said.
“The couches and bigger items — that’s not bad,” said excavator operator Gary Smith. “It’s the household trash, all the little stuff that’s the worst. Which is ridiculous because there’s a (trash) transfer station in Rangely.”
While the shooting table was removed from the range, Grimes said he is open to establishing a legitimate range with a hooded table that isn’t so close to the golf course. The ravine received a layer of topsoil and seeding last week, and signs will soon frame its edges.
Grimes believes making people aware of the area’s legal resources for disposing of trash — the transfer station, a free tree dump within town limits and hazardous waste disposal by local businesses, among other options — is part of the solution. Officials across agencies continue to discuss educating people of legal consequences, encouraging community members to report dumping activity and printing offenders’ names in the paper.
The reality may simply be that, unless they’re caught, a few people may never get the point.
“In recreation, there’s always that 1 percent that’s really difficult to work with,” Grimes said. “That always takes more time than the 99 percent that does the right thing.”
One component of illegal dumping discussions last year is no longer happening. Last fall, county commissioners removed a $250,000 line item for a 22-unit, county-wide camera system in light of a tight budget and concerns about how residents may have perceived its use.
“We’ll see what the new sheriff thinks about things like that,” Rio Blanco County Commissioner Jon Hill said. “That’ll help determine whether we’ll continue working on it or not.”
“These are original projects, so each one’s a little different,” Grimes said of last week’s work.