Tons of dumped items, such as garbage, furniture and hazardous items, are frequently found in the training areas outside the main fenced area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord — essentially JBLM’s backyard. It’s a year-round effort, but more than 30 service members volunteered to help collect and sort garbage just outside Lewis Main’s East Gate during the JBLM Spring Clean-Up Week Monday to Friday.
It can be pretty annoying for the service members who would rather be working on their combat skills instead of finding couches, car engines, transmissions and needles.
“If we go out and train and there’s trash, you can’t train,” said Spc. Tyler Scarborough, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. “It’s more of a safety hazard — especially when you’re dealing with an engine block (of a vehicle).”
Greg Mason, JBLM’s environmental investigator for the Directorate of Public Works, has just about seen it all in his 14 years working with DPW. He leads the year-round effort and coordinates the seasonal clean-up events with service member support.
The average amount of garbage collected in an event like this falls between 150 and 300 tons, Mason said. He has the unpleasant job of digging in the collected garbage to find clues to help identify the person who dumped the debris on base property.
“It’s worse in the heat of summer,” Mason said.
Paystubs, expired drivers licenses, license plates, membership cards and credit or debit cards are commonly-found items.
On Monday, about 200 pounds of trash was found in one spot with a canine prescription bottle with the dog owner’s name. Mason ran the name through the Department of Licensing and found an address where he’ll send a claim through the attorney’s office totaling the cost for her dump.
“We determine the number of man hours expended by the U.S. Army to clean up and investigate whose property this is,” Mason said. “On average, that takes about 10 hours.”
At an hourly rate of $56 per hour and the $300 charge by LeMay for removing a single ton of garbage, this bill is going to be about $860. It can get more expensive depending on what they find.
About two months ago, an old boat filled with oil and fuel contaminated water was found. The two largest claims Mason’s team has made are worth $12,000 and $11,500 respectively.
“Most people claim not to have dumped the trash, but that is not our concern,” Mason said. “We are going after the owner of the trash, because that is what we can prove in civil court.”
Mason said his office has pursued cases against individuals, companies, organizations and, rarely, municipalities. In addition to year-round efforts, the two clean-up weeks take away about a month of service members training per year.
Each clean-up week in the spring and fall requires another week of training leading up to the event.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” said Spc. Elixander Aikman of 1-14 Cav. “All of the money we’re spending on this could be used training (service members).”