Birch Bay works to clean up litter

Published on Thu, Mar 26, 2009 by Marisa Willis

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Despite the loss of county funding and support, community members felt Birch Bay was still in need of a little TLC – Trash and Litter Crew, that is.

The newly established Birch Bay Trash and Litter Crew has risen above the gum wrappers and empty soda bottles to pick up where the Solid Waste Division left off.

After expensive trash removal following last year’s cleanups and further budget cuts, Whatcom County Public Works said they would be unable to fund annual cleanups on Birch Bay’s roads and beaches.
Kathy Berg, chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee, said members of the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce and the rest of the community came together to continue the trash collection. She said enough people have decided to pitch in their time, money and effort to make this year’s three events successful.

“That’s the great thing about these cleanups,” Berg said. “They bring the community together. The more regularly we have these cleanups, the less we have to cleanup!”

Berg said she remains confident the Birch Bay community will be able to manage other cleanups in the future if needed. And considering the trend of many state and county agencies budgets, that may be a good thing to prepare for.

Penni Lemperes, solid waste specialist for Whatcom County, said Whatcom County Public Works’ solid waste division had funds cut by more than a third for the 2009-2011 biennium. A litter grant from the State Department of Ecology normally gives the division $64,000 for a two year period. Now, Lemperes said they are operating with less than $20,000 a year.

“The good thing is we don’t have a terrible litter problem in our county like some counties do,” Lemperes said. “There are problem areas but for the most part our county is a pretty clean county compared to a lot of others.”

During a beach cleanup last fall some residents left county crews to dispose of couches, appliances and used motor oil. Lemperes said the event was a “disaster” and consumed more funds than they were prepared for.

“Instead of being a community beach cleanup, it turned into everybody bring whatever you feel like bringing and dump it,” Lemperes said. “It just got to the point where we had to figure out a different way to do it.”

The division ran into problems this year as well, though they involved areas all across Whatcom County. The immense floods from early January caused loads of damage and took up nearly their entire budget, Lemperes said.

All these factors disabled the organization from funding the cleanups, an activity they have been involved in for more than ten years, Lemperes said. Through the Adopt-A-Road program, Lemperes said the division will still provide bags, litter collectors and disposal service to any community interested.

Lisa Guthrie, Birch Bay chamber of commerce president, said she refused to allow the cleanups to dissipate and tried to get as many businesses involved as possible.

“I am proud to be a part of this community that will not allow the commitment to fail—despite once again being left high and dry by Whatcom County,” Guthrie said.

In light of cutbacks, Sanitary Service Company has agreed to handle the disposal of the Birch Bay cleanups this year. To celebrate the next cleanup, and Earth Day, a community hotdog roast will be held at noon on April 26 at Birch Bay State Park.

The next Birch Bay TLC events are scheduled for April 26 and September 13 for a beach and roadside cleanup and July 5 to pick up debris from fireworks. All events meet 9 a.m. at The C Shop for coffee and refreshments.