Prolific Portland-area illegal dumpsites recede after Metro beefs up sanitation


Crews dispatched to clean up illegal dumpsites across Portland and the rest of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties are picking up the pace and beginning to plow through a backlog that piled high amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Metro regional government is now taking an average of 13 business days to respond to an illegal dumping report in the tri-county area, the agency said, down from a record 72 days last September.

Sanitation workers, meanwhile, have managed to wrangle a backlog of more than 500 active illegal dumpsites down to about 350, said Kimberlee Ables, an agency spokeswoman.

Ables told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Monday that Metro hopes to bring response times down to a pre-pandemic average of three business days by the end of December.

“We are still confident we can hit that mark,” she said.

Illegal dumping of trash and large discarded items began to proliferate in the Portland area at the onset of the pandemic, fueled in part by Metro’s decision to reduce its sanitation workforce by half during the shutdown.

The reason? The regional government had lost access to low-paid prisoners who had performed much of the work but were kept behind bars as the virus raged, an Oregonian/OregonLive investigation found.

After The Oregonian/OregonLive reported on the use of prison labor — which led to the disproportionate deployment of males of color to pick up others’ detritus — Metro officials said publicly that it had decided to stop using prisoners to staff its sanitation program late last year amid ongoing social justice protests and political unrest.

In July, the agency doubled the number of work crews patrolling the region to four teams and plans to add two additional crews in the next few months, Ables said.

All workers now earn a living wage that starts at $20 an hour, according to the agency.

Metro is also slowly beginning to resume collecting litter and trash along Interstate 84′s northern right of way between Northeast Grand Avenue and Southeast 92nd Avenue, an area it’s responsible for maintaining but stopped cleaning in December 2019.

In May, the agency worked with the city of Portland to remove nearly 11,000 pounds of refuse between Grand Avenue and Northeast 16th Avenue, Ables said.

— Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632

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Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh

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