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Sick of Illegal Dumping

Navajo Times, News report, Jan-Mikael Patterson Posted: Jul 04, 2009

llegal dumping is a problem across the Navajo Nation, but residents of Old Red Lake Road say they are being overwhelmed by other people's trash and they want it to stop.

The problem has become acute north of the intersection with Navajo Route 7, where in addition to a heavy compliment of the usual roadside detritus, there are cardboard boxes, broken furniture and bags full of household trash in ditches and behind hills.

They would like their neighbors in Fort Defiance and surrounding communities to know this: People live here. If you don't want this stuff in your own backyard, why do you think it's OK to dump it in ours?

"I've noticed that in the past two years the trash has really increased," said Veronica Yellowhair. "My family and I cleaned this up a year ago."

Not too far from her home a culvert guides rainwater to the wash nearby, but it has become a dumping site for trash large and small.

Further down from that culvert is another area behind a hill where someone dumped a mattress and tried to ignite it. Various other piles of debris also show signs that someone tried to set them on fire.

Growing problem

Yellowhair moved to her home site a couple of years ago was disheartened by the loads of trash she found dumped on the side of the road and up behind hills.

A neighbor and relative, Lionel Price, said he has watched the problem of illegal dumping in the area grow throughout his lifetime.

"Back when I young, a kid, I used to walk in these hills," Price said. "Back then there wasn't any trash. It probably wasn't until my teens that I started to notice it but I really didn't pay any attention to it back then.

"It probably wasn't until I was raising a family that it started to bother me," he said.

Price recalled a couple of months ago noticing a car full of kids drive by, an adult at the wheel. He happened to be outside and saw the kids throwing bike parts, trash and a microwave out of the car.

Another time he followed a vehicle that he felt was up to no good, and he recalls getting into a heated argument as the individual dumped trash right in front of him.

Price said he continued to harass the dumper until the person stopped and drove off, presumably looking for less stressful place to break the tribe's solid waste laws.

The problem is not only trash dumpers, the residents said. People drive out to the area - one of the most beautiful in Dintah - to drink alcohol beverages. After enjoying themselves, they dump out their cans, bottles and empty beer cases.

"I was told that Gallup doesn't sell bottles like those," Price said, indicating the source for some of the trash likely was Sagebrush Liquors, a watering hole on State Route 264.

"I don't understand why people do this," Yellowhair said. "I tell my kids that if they throw trash out the window, I tell them what could happen and it gives them something to think about.

"There was this community member who I confronted," Yellowhair said. "I confronted him about why he was dumping trash here. He said, 'No one takes care of this place out here anyway.' I still see that individual around."

The tribe just won an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but the Red Lake Road residents have found little help there for their problem.

Price said he used to log down a description of the dumpers' vehicles as well as their license plates, but after repeatedly going to the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency - which receives federal grant money to enforce solid waste laws - and the Navajo Nation Police without results, he gave up.

Diane Malone, program supervisor for waste regulatory under Navajo EPA, said she is aware of the illegal dumping in the area and said investigations would be conducted.

"A lot of the times it's hard when investigations are being done because we don't know who dumps their trash," she said. "Sometimes we just get names with no address, which doesn't really help."

She plans to research the files for complaints made, and follow up with an investigation, she said.

Document dumping

Yellowhair carries a digital camera with her at all times to log how frequent trash dumping is taking place, which is practically every day, she said.

People have thrown out everything, including a kitchen sink. A couch currently sits along the roadside, dumped into a culvert already cluttered with trash bags, clothing, exercise equipment, baby strollers and walkers, and even bags of concrete mix that got wet and hardened.

Yellowhair was saddened once to see an official tribal vehicle make its way down the road to dump a load. She subsequently found construction materials including roofing paper and asphalt roll roofing, lumber, bathroom vanities, appliances, vehicle parts, and toilet bowls.

"I know that the chapter house had helped with some renovations of some community members homes," she said, guessing that could've been the source of the items discarded.

Yellowhair and Price say they and their families have worked every year to pick up trash and load it into a horse trailer and haul it away, footing the cost of $30 to $50 per load, sometimes two or three loads at a time.

When asked if people might just dump because it costs to haul to legal places, Yellowhair said, "That might be one of the reasons."

Price felt different.

"They just don't have any respect for the land," he said. "They don't care."

Attacking attitudes

NNEPA Director Stephen Etsitty agreed that when it comes to the trash that blights so much of the Navajo Nation, the problem won't go away until public attitudes change.

Although assessments are made and sites investigated and cleaned up, people continue to dump trash anew, he said.

"It's always not the same people but trash is still dumped," Etsitty said, noting that a big chunk of the solid waste program's time is devoted to education efforts, particularly directed at reaching young people before they form bad habits.

Tribal authorities can issue citations for illegal dumping based on documents found in trash that contains names and addresses, even homework with the names of local students on it.

When a Navajo Times reporter and photographer visited to Old Red Lake Road Wednesday, one weathered bag of trash had splite open to reveal a prescription bottle issued to Sylvia Belone.

Also found was confidential medical information for a Shane Littlesinger.

And it can be confirmed that Mitchell Laughing attended science class on Sept. 15, 2008, took notes and is quite a poet.

Council Delegate Larry Anderson Sr. (Fort Defiance) said one action the chapter took was to set out a dumpster at the chapter house where people can bring old appliances, lumber and other large items that won't fit in their household trash containers. It filled up right away and he said the chapter may lease another one soon.

"We did collect a quite of bit of trash," he said. "Of course they fill up right away."

Anderson said the chapter has also helped remove illegally dumped trash near the home of "Mr. Williams from Blue Canyon," who has made complaints to the chapter house.

"Our chapter employment resources are limited," Anderson said.

When told prescription bottles and medical documents with names on them were found, Anderson said, "I didn't know that that kind of information is left out there. And people are talking about identity theft."

Anderson said although the chapter's approach is not 100 percent effective, it is very concerned about the problem of trashing.

Cassandra Bloedel, program supervisor for NNEPA's Resource Conservation and Recovery Program, was not available for comment as of press time Wednesday.

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