KENNEWICK -- Volunteers tackling the issue of illegal dumping in the hills south of Kennewick have cleared away about 10 tons of debris in 1 1/2 months.
"We're only 50 percent done," said Mike Robinson of Kennewick, who's helping coordinate the cleanup effort. "But we are done with 50 percent. That's pretty cool."
Robinson and Al Potter of Kennewick, avid cyclists, brought the problem to public attention in December through social media and a front-page story in the Herald.
The friends regularly ride in the hills around Highway 397 and noticed more and more garbage piling up on some of the last natural, undeveloped land in Benton County. They worried landowners would cut off access because of the growing problem.
In the past several weeks, 40 to 50 volunteers pitched in to haul away garbage. Among the junk that's accumulated: old furniture, demolition and construction debris and hundreds of tires.
The Les Schwab tire centers on West Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick and near Columbia Center mall have accepted about 300 tires at no cost. Waste Management in Kennewick also has taken most of the trash hauled away by the volunteers for free, and Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities chipped in for commercial construction debris disposal, Robinson said.
Volunteers also recently met with some Benton County officials to discuss the issue and how to prevent it, including posting "No Dumping" signs in the area.
"There are many things we're trying to hash out to get this going," said Marie Sullivan of the Benton County Prosecutor's Office, who was at the meeting.
Rick Dawson of the Benton Franklin Health District said staffers from his agency are -- as time allows -- examining dump sites noted by volunteers and looking for evidence that could link the garbage to the dumper.
Illegal dumping is a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, depending on the volume, and is punishable by fines and jail time.
If the dumper can't be found, it can fall to landowners to bear the disposal costs, which can be hefty.
Dawson, supervisor of the health district's land use, sewage and water section, pointed out that there are several sites in the Tri-City area where people can properly dispose of their garbage, including transfer stations and the Richland landfill.
Potter said community members seem to be on higher alert now for people dumping junk illegally in the hills. "We're gaining on it. ... We're making progress," he said.
To help with the cleanup effort, email Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dawson said illegal dumpsites can be reported to the health district at 460-4200 or by submitting a comment online at www.bfhd.wa.gov.