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RANGELY I A baby jumper frames a pile of rotting roof shingles. Discarded Christmas décor lies scattered among decaying air mattresses and long-dead branches. Office chairs and sofas jut from the clutter in awkward angles like some bizarre rendition of feng shui.
A wooden sign that once marked the entrance to Pinyon Circle sits haphazardly among the trash, proclaiming it “The Ridges.”
It isn’t a landfill. It’s one of several illegal dump sites in and around Rangely, and local officials want to ramp up efforts to clean the sites and ticket offenders.
In a work session on July 15, the Rio Blanco County commissioners and representatives from the County Road and Bridge Department, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Land Management and the Town of Rangely made initial plans to unite in that effort.
“We just need to systematically go (clean it up) and enforce it,” Sheriff Si Woodruff said. “We’re all the same. We’re going to do something until we get caught. And when we get caught or our friends get caught, we quit.”
Officials at Monday’s session supported that sentiment cautiously, pointing out that the local trash transfer station, a free annual dump coupon and a legal tree dump within town limits give residents reasonable ways to get rid of trash legally.
“Awareness, I think, is a big (factor),” Rangely Town Manager Peter Brixius said. “Get the awareness out there, keep it in front of people, let them know what some of the penalties are and let them know why it’s important to work together on some of these things.”
But given even nominal awareness of existing services and dump fines as high as $1,000 or more per offense, some believe the problem is just getting worse. Sites range from several offshoots of County Road 23, Dragon Road, to the shooting range near County Road 1 toward Blue Mountain and sites north of Rangely toward Chase Draw. Other popular dump areas exist along the Highway 139 corridor and the Deserado Mine Road.
“We would go on walks and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, here’s a whole bedroom set,’” said Rangely resident Aurora Chumacero, who has been walking and driving the trails around Rangely with her husband, Juan, for nearly two decades. “This past year, we noticed that every trail we would take, there would be box springs, refrigerators, washers, you name it.”
In the last three years, the Chumaceros said, the amount of trash near county roads and on public lands has increased noticeably, especially with large objects that won’t soon decompose.
“What gets us thinking about it is when people get rid of tires, furniture, appliances,” Juan Chumacero said. “Those things are never going to move. They’re going to be there for centuries.”
While some blame the increase in illegal dumping on Rangely’s landfill being closed several years ago, others, like former county commissioner Ken Parsons, say that the dumping was as serious a problem two decades ago as it is today.
Which may be why residents and leaders alike are asking for a permanent fix to a long-term problem.
“I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way we do,” Rangely Mayor Frank Huitt said. “This is our home. Let’s make it respectable.”
Woodruff said it would surprise most people to learn who dumps and the reasons given for doing it.
“There will be people well known in the community doing it; there’ll be poor people doing it,” he said in an interview prior to the work session. “There will always be a reason they couldn’t take it somewhere else. We used to publish the names of dumpers in the newspaper.”
Bureau of Land Management law enforcement ranger Don Miller said he has collaborated with the sheriff’s office and the Town of Rangely to cite individual offenders before. A substantial cleanup effort, he said, would involve identifying and prioritizing top sites, then using town and county equipment and labor as efficiently as possible to minimize disruption to workers’ existing projects.
Brixius and Road and Bridge Supervisor Dave Morlan pledged help in the effort.
“Let us know what site you’re looking at,” Brixius told Miller. “Pick a day, maybe form a small group of county, federal and local officials and see if we can organize some volunteers, get them out to the site, and bring some equipment out there. I don’t think this has to be a big budgetary thing. We can pick away at it, pick out a few sites a year, and clean it up.”
Colorado’s Northwest District BLM public affairs specialist Chris Joyner said that, although some sites may require an assessment to determine whether hazardous materials or historically valuable artifacts exist, that process should remain local and be relatively quick.
“It would be very disappointing if it took too long,” he said. “(BLM outdoor recreation planner) Aaron Grimes could make many of those decisions, and, at some sites, we may already know what’s there….We want to make sure people who have an interest to go out and clean up can get it done.”
While addressing the problem may be more complex than a trash pickup day or local campaign, Joyner added that residents watching for and reporting illegal dumping are a key part of the solution.
“It’s a very small minority that’s doing this,” Joyner said. “It’s not the majority of people enjoying public lands. And the best way to help us, to help keep our public lands clean, is to report the people dumping.”
This week, the BLM took the next step in the cleanup process. Grimes contacted town and county officials to set up a time to identify and prioritize key cleanup sites. Meanwhile, others are moving forward with their own cleanup efforts, like Huitt, who plans to remove trash from the Blue Mountain shooting range in the near future.
Woodruff said the other piece of the puzzle is an approximately 22-unit, $250,000 camera system that will record vehicles coming into and out of primary entrance and exit points around Rangely, Meeker and Piceance Creek, including key dumping areas like Dragon Road.
If a pilot program for the high-resolution cameras set to launch next month goes smoothly, Rio Blanco County Director of Information Technology Tyson Edwards said that camera placement will progress throughout this year and be complete by next summer.
“The end result is these cameras could be used for a wide variety of purposes,” Edwards said. “It’s not for automated license plate scanning or having somebody watching all the time. It’s useful when we get a report of something happening or have a reason to suspect something is going on. Then we can pull the video up, much like we do building security.”
“The camera system, for lack of words, that’s just deadly,” Woodruff said. “If Si drives out of town with a truckload of branches and a truckload of trash, and an hour later comes back and his truck is empty, Si just bought himself a $1,000 ticket. Besides the fact that any judge would demand restitution that you will clean it up and then some.”
As the Chumaceros head out each day to follow a beloved trail or enjoy a familiar vista, they hope future generations will inherit a legacy of care and stewardship rather than neglect and misuse.
“I don’t want those young people to go out there and see all the trash,” Juan Chumacero said. “If they do, they’ll learn to do the same.”