COOS BAY — A monthslong partnership between the Coos County Commission and Ray Block, founder of an ad hoc cleanup group called Leaven No Trace, has come to an acrimonious end.
“It’s sad to see that they don’t want to help out anymore,” Block said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Block, who moved to the area from Arizona, left his construction job to make trash cleanup a full-time priority.
Since January, his efforts, along with the name of his group, gained attention and support throughout the community. Eventually, that support extended to the Coos County Commission, which granted Block a waiver that allowed him to deposit piles of tires and other roadside detritus for pickup.
Commissioner John Sweet was a vocal proponent of Leaven No Trace.
“These men are doing fantastic work and hard work,” Sweet said at a meeting earlier this year. “They’re diving down into some gullies along our roads and carrying tires out of there and stacking them along the side of Libby Lane.”
On Tuesday, Sweet’s tone had changed.
“It’s a tough decision. We’re tickled to death that people have gone out and volunteered to help clean up the area,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are great costs in addition to getting that material up to the side of the road.”
Sweet said that the commission told Block “from the outset that this is something we didn’t have the budget for.”
Because there is no landfill or tire recycling center in Coos County, Sweet said that trash picked up by Block and his fellow volunteers had to be sent elsewhere. The nearest recycling center is in Portland, and it cost the county $100 per ton of tires sent. After time, that adds up for the county, Sweet said.
“We were spending money at the rate of about $500 a week,” he said.
In addition, it cost a local sanitation company money to do the trash pickups, which local firm Les’ Sanitary Services had been doing free of charge to the county.
Sweet said commissioners were peppered with complaints from county residents asking how the commission could subsidize what amounts to trash pickup on private property but not pay to keep the jail staffed or the roads paved.
“I believe they (the commissioners) should take a pay cut and put it back into the communities if they are suffering so much,” Block said in response to a question about cost concerns.
Block said the about face on Sweet’s part in the commission’s April 13 decision to cease waivers for Leaven No Trace was a disappointment, but that he wasn’t surprised.
“Honestly, I’m surprised they did help out at all,” he said.
With the waiver no longer in effect, Block himself actually could get cited for trash dumping if he continues to collect garbage on the side of the road.
Sweet said that the piles of tires and the like in the public right of way pose a traffic hazard, possibly even a life-threatening one.
“We just don’t allow people to stack stuff on the side of the road and leave it there forever,” Sweet said. “You can’t just go and put stuff on the side of the road.”
But Block said it was nothing new for the county to threaten legal action against him and he wouldn’t be deterred from his mission.
“Leaven No Trace is here for the community to make it happy and healthy and make it prosper,” Block said. “Nothing will stop me from continuing that effort.”