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Trashing the city

An impromptu dump site near the Brown's Point ski trail in the Superior Municipal Forest last winter is a symptom of a growing problem in Superior-- illegal dumping. "All winter long, people who came to Superior to ski, skied right past this pile of junk," said Todd Campbell. "It's kind of embarrassing." (Courtesy of Sue Wegener)

For Todd Campbell, a 23-year resident of Kilner Bay Drive, the Superior Municipal Forest is a place to ski, ride mountain bikes, hike in the woods, and walk or jog on the trails.

Jen Peterson also enjoys walking in woods and along the trails.

And they know only too well, the pristine beauty of the 4,600 acre forest is little more than a dumping ground for some.

"It makes you mad," Peterson said. "They're disrespecting the property and someone else has to deal with it."

There are several of us who try to watch and see what's going on, Campbell said.

"It's disheartening and you wonder if people really value the treasure that is the city municipal forest," Campbell said.

The problem

Peterson said often times it is larger items that don't fit in trashcans he's found in the Superior Municipal Forest.

"It's old washing machines and mattresses and other household appliances of one sort or another or an old bicycle or a shopping cart -- odds and ends like that," Campbell said. He said he's also seen demolition debris dumped in the woods.

"It's city crews that end up cleaning it all up," Campbell said.

And that's a cost paid by taxpayers.

Without knowing specifically who is doing the cleanup, determining an exact cost is difficult, said Finance Director Jean Vito. However, city officials estimate 10 man hours are spent each week cleaning up debris dumped illegally in the city. A laborer on the low end of the wage scale, with benefits, would earn about $30 an hour, translating to a weekly cost to the city of about $300, Vito said.

"We're kind of seeing a spike in illegal dumping," said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck. While the municipal forest and Wisconsin Point have long been prime dumping locations because they are remote, Serck said people are dumping on city lots that are not necessarily remote.

But it's not just city lots; private property owners are victims too.

Chief Building Inspector Dan Curran said property owners with multi-family units often find their tenants taking the blame for problems that -- once investigated -- comes from elsewhere. And not that long ago, a woman in her 80s woke to find mattresses dumped in her yard, he said.

"It's all over town," Curran said. "It's everywhere."

Despite closing Albany Avenue for a portion of the spring, and increasing fines 10-fold to curb illegal dumping, the problem persists, Curran said.

However, residents in the area and forest users say the problem on Albany starts as soon as the road re-opens.

"It would be nice if the area was just closed," Peterson said. "The only people that should be back there are the people who enjoy it."

Community pride

Campbell said the Superior Municipal Forest should attract people from all over for recreation; however, when there is a dumpsite at the start of the Brown's Point ski trail like last year that remains through much of the winter, he said it's hard to attract those who might enjoy the outdoor treasure.

"It was dumped right before the snow came and city crews couldn't get to it to clean it up," Campbell said. "All winter long, people who came to Superior to ski, skied right past this pile of junk. It's kind of embarrassing."

Knowing where the problems exist can help get it cleaned up when city crews can get access to it, Curran said.

"We don't know what the stuff is," Curran said. "Some of it could be contaminated ... they don't seem to have any problem dumping it on city property and walking away from it."

Cost of trash disposal

A ton of garbage at the landfill costs $46, said Code Compliance Officer Tammy Thibert. While there is a minimum charge of $10 at the landfill, she said the city offers free landfill days a couple times a year, giving people the opportunity to get rid of stuff at no cost.

However, items such as appliances, electronics and demolition or building materials, motor oil, and recyclable materials are banned in Wisconsin landfills. Often, those are the items dumped illegally.

Thibert said if anyone simply doesn't know what to do with the items, they can call the landfill or public works office for suggestions on how to dispose of them properly.

While those items often come with a recycling fee, Thibert said the cost is minimal when compared to the cost of getting caught and fined.

"They could certainly call our landfill and find out when we have our free landfill days to avoid a $1,000 fine," Thibert said.

Getting caught is a very real possibility. There are citizens watching and sharing that information with city officials, Thibert said.

The solution

"Our best boots on the ground are the people who care about their community," City Attorney Frog Prell said. He said when citizens can provide information about what they saw, and officials find the trash to corroborate witness statements that is compelling information for a successful prosecution.

"Our courts are just as impressed by the testimony of a citizen who cares as they are by the testimony of a sworn officer," Prell said. "I would love to see people mobilize and galvanize to contact us and share information with us."

Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse said people should call 911 if they witness someone actively dumping.

"We need them to provide as accurate a description as they can obtain," LaGesse said. He said information about the people and vehicle involved helps. Even if people can't call immediately, still call because officers will investigate, LaGesse said.

The date and time is also important, Prell said. Being observant can help, he said, noting a citizen observed a truck entering the forest loaded with concrete, a truck that later left empty, and vehicle and license plate information lead to a successful prosecution and $700 fine.

Campbell said be vigilant and share information with city officials.

"People who are out there in the forest aren't necessarily out there for enjoyment. Some are out there to do things that are illegal," Campbell said.