OCEAN PARK — Residents on the north end of the Long Beach Peninsula are ready to declare war on trash.
They are tired of junk cars, dilapidated motorhomes and other dumped debris blighting their neighborhoods.
The recent discovery of a burned-out trailer on U Street sparked action.
Some 56 neighbors packed Fire District No. 1’s meeting room Thursday night to make their complaints heard. Many believe Ocean Park has become a dumping ground. “There’s ‘crapola’ that’s arriving down here daily,” said resident Gloria Buck.
The newly revamped Village Club attracted a standing-room-only crowd to hear Tammy Engel, code enforcement officer for Pacific County, describe a complex tangle of laws and regulations.
Many attending were aghast to learn that Engel wages a one-woman battle enforcing county and state junk laws. And she is just a three-quarter time employee, funded by a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology. Engel left a somewhat more secure desk job with the county to take over the enforcement duties — despite the precarious nature of grant-funded government positions.
She has 100 open cases, in a county covering 1,224 square miles.
While people attending joined Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson in applauding Engel for her zeal, many expressed frustrations that enforcement was inadequate.
Engel said public health issues can be speedily dealt with, but dumping enforcement is slow because of all the rules that have to be followed. “Things have changed a lot,” she said. “There are different issues today that were not there in 1996 when the ordinances were created.”
She mentioned one case that took 22 years to resolve, eliciting gasps throughout the crowded room.
Engel encouraged residents to complain directly to Pacific County commissioners if they believe the agency isn’t making junk cleanup a high enough priority.
“We are complaint driven,” she added, encouraging residents to identify the priority problems. “It does help to have more than one complaint on a property. And there’s no ‘grandfathering in’ on these kind of violations.”
Karen De Lessert was among those asking how to get the attention of government leaders. Another asked if the commissioners had a vulnerable “Achilles’ heel” when it came to issues.
Engel said the commissioners do pay attention when multiple constituents complain. “They are working on ways to alleviate this issue, but you might ‘light a fire,’” she said.
The belief was echoed by the sheriff. Like his own elected position, the commissioners are answerable to their bosses — the voters. “They will listen to what you have to say,” Johnson said.
No impound yard
One key problem is that the Long Beach Peninsula does not have a county impound yard — and there are few appropriately zoned areas even if money were available.
“There’s just no place to put these vehicles,” said Engel. “If they are abandoned, we must try to contact the owner of the vehicle. There is no money from the county to clean it up and then bill the property owner.”
Johnson said an estimate on creating an impound yard was $20,000.
“That’s $20,000 that the county simply does not have — and there’s no place zoned in this part of the county,” the sheriff said, admitting his own frustrations.
“It’s quite embarrassing to me that they have not got this in place. There’s a trailer near the Bank of the Pacific in Naselle and we have nowhere to take it.”
Colleen Smith, who operates Adelaide’s restaurant on the Ocean Park beach approach, she was concerned that none of the money from fines comes back to help county enforcement efforts.
Engel described one case in which the fine had been $2,088.
“I have chased that RV around the county for about a year,” she said. But she said all the money from successful action goes to the courts system and the state of Washington. “We are pushing for that to change,” she said.
As the meeting wrapped up, Engel offered her email address for residents to contact her with tips and concerns, but cautioned that complaints should still be registered through the Pacific County website at www.co.pacific.wa.us