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Trashing the Place 

by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's another day at the dump for Anthony Scarano, Ron Tomsha and the boys. Scarano is the supervisor for the work crews from Spokane County's Geiger Correctional Facility. Tomsha is a work crew officer. And the boys are the dozen or so fellows in red jump suits and orange and yellow fluorescent vests.

Today's worksite isn't technically a dump; it's a mostly abandoned lot across East Trent from St. Vincent de Paul. Tomsha has discovered a pile of wooden pallets and other junk behind an old boarded-up carpet store.

"What we want to do, guys, is to leave all the steel," Tomsha calls out. "And should we leave the pallets, Anthony?"

"Yeah, let's leave the pallets," Scarano responds.

The members of the work crew fan out with their plastic garbage bags. Some concentrate on pulling paper and other stuff from the weeds that have grown around a nearby cyclone fence. Two guys emerge from behind a rounded-top corrugated metal building carrying a blue couch. A few toss old tree limbs into one of two big trailers that are towed by the yellow crew buses that hauled them to this place.

"This dump's probably been here for a month or so," says Tomsha. "And if we come back in another month, we'll probably find this much again."

Scarano's crews pick up garbage for the county, for the state Ecology Department, for the Downtown Spokane Partnership and in Stevens County. They clean Avista Stadium after Spokane Indians' baseball games and even do maintenance work at Turnbull Wildlife Refuge.

"We have at least five crews a day out picking up trash. Sometimes as many as nine," he says. "We find all kinds of stuff: needles, syringes, pipes, knives. No guns yet. Last week at a dumpsite we found washers and dryers, other appliances, dead animals. Sometimes we tear down homeless camps after police go through and evict squatters."

Scarano estimates his crews picked up more than 100,000 pounds of garbage for the state and about 76,000 for the county last year. He says the downtown crews filled nearly 4,000 bags and removed more than 13,000 graffiti messages. If the pace for the first two months of 2007 continues all year, he says, they'll pick up far more trash than they did last year.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hy is there so much garbage for these crews to pick up? "Two reasons, I think," says Henry Bossy, the foreman for the city of Spokane's litter control crew. "One is just a blatant attempt by some to try to get away with something. And the second is poverty."

The tipping fee at the incinerator is $98 a ton, $103 at the county transfer stations. Would lower fees necessarily lead to less illegal dumping? "I don't think so," says Anthony Scarano. "I think these are people who just don't care."

Kathie Benham, a code enforcement officer for the city of Spokane, says she's seeing fewer illegal dumpsites, but more people dropping their trash in others' dumpsters. "It's good that they're not putting it on the ground," she says, "but it would be better if they used their own garbage cans or the waste transfer stations.

Illegal dumping isn't the only form of littering officials are after - unsecured loads are under scrutiny too.

"One day last summer I was standing along the side of a road with my kids," recalled Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich last week, "and as a truck went by, I saw a 20-pound water cooler fly out. It's a good thing my daughter ran track because she had to hurdle that jug as it went by us."

Knezovich spoke at a press conference held by the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Ecology for the purpose of declaring war on litterbugs and others who fail to adequately tie down loads in their vehicles. "Does it really bother you when something falls off a vehicle in front of you? Or when someone tosses out a lit cigarette butt? Now it's time to take action when you spot someone littering," reads a brochure from the agencies' "Litter and It Will Hurt" media campaign.

Ecology officials say road debris is at least partially responsible for causing about 400 vehicle accidents on Washington's highways every year. The State Patrol cites at least eight fatalities from accidents caused by flying garbage during the last three years. The list includes some horrific cases: two men killed as they swerved their car to avoid runaway logs near Hoquiam; a man killed on I-5 near Olympia when his car became wedged under a tractor trailer while he swerved to avoid a hand truck; a man killed in a multi-vehicle accident caused by an unsecured shelving unit falling from a truck on I-5 north of Seattle.

"For about seven years I've led crews who have picked up litter along the highways, and the stuff we're finding today is often more dangerous," said George Carlton from Ecology's Youth Corps. Carlton and his colleagues cite a long list: blown-out tires with their steel belts poking into the air, toilets, firearms, blasting caps, appliances and money.

The state's litter fines start at $50. A driver who fails to properly secure a load can be ticketed and fined $194. State officials say if something from that load flies out and damages a vehicle, the driver could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, subject to a $1,000 fine. If someone is injured or killed, the charge increases to a gross misdemeanor with a possible year in jail and $5,000 fine.

"We don't want to write a lot of tickets," said WSP Trooper Mark Baker at last week's press conference. "But we will be more aggressive in enforcing these laws, especially for unsecured loads."

Ecology operates a hotline (1-866-LITTER1) to encourage people to report vehicles from which they see trash flying. They take about 13,000 calls a year. Officials credit the hotline, the cleanup programs and anti-litter education for a 24-percent drop in garbage picked up along the state's highways between 1999 and 2004.

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