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Community rallies to clean Martinez Canyon

As illegal dumping in Martinez Canyon apparently continues, efforts toward a comprehensive cleanup are also picking up steam.

During a Wednesday phone interview, Tonya Hamilton, of the Pagosa Lakes Property Owner’s Association (PLPOA) Department of Covenant Compliance, reported finding evidence of newly-discarded refuse — possibly including used appliances — in areas along and over the canyon rim, in subdivisions near the west end of town.

Numerous dumpsites were previously reported in Pagosa Trails, while several others were found near Martin, Tower and West Crescent courts in neighboring Chris Mountain Village. Aside from used appliances, perpetrators have deposited worn-out furniture, at least two unwanted vehicles, construction material and all sorts of household trash and debris in the canyon.

According to Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Kristin McCoy, “It has been ongoing for many years. It’s kind of Pagosa’s ugly little secret.”

However, Hamilton said Wednesday that daily canyon visits have uncovered new dumpsites, including several bags of garbage not yet destroyed by wildlife.

Meanwhile, as law enforcement investigates this illegal activity, community citizens, local, state and federal government representatives, and area businesses are lining up to assist in cleaning up the mess.

As examples, property owners in Chris Mountain, Trails and Elk Park subdivision (across the canyon) have circulated information to neighbors, while offering to assist in hauling out trash. And, members of a Wyndham Vacation Ownership work crew intend to tow a trailer to the various sites, then haul trash to its private dumpsters.

Meanwhile, Canyon Crest Lodge has promised large landscape boulders to block illegal access — and the equipment to move them — all at no charge.

Pagosa Power Sports and Pagosa Trail Riders have said they will repeatedly enter the canyon on ATVs, then exit with whatever they can carry. They also suggested efforts eventually be extended to other problem areas of the county.

Members of the Pagosa Fire Protection District will train workers in the proper handling of hazardous materials, while district volunteers will utilize the cutting and removal of discarded automobiles and large appliances as training exercises of their own.

JR Towing Inc. owner Doug McInnis has said he has the necessary (and expensive) equipment to haul vehicles and appliances out without difficulty, but will have to charge for the service. He also suggested having a canyon team at the bottom, to wrap refuse in a cargo net, before utilizing the specialized equipment to hoist it out.

In an effort to assess environmental impacts, Merlin Wheeler, a retired hydrologist, has agreed to collect water and soil samples for transfer and analysis at Green Analytical Laboratories in Durango. This will cost an estimated $350.

To facilitate canyon access, various landowners will allow workers and volunteers to cross their property whenever necessary. In the meantime, area residents are keeping a watchful eye, and have begun reporting any unusual or suspicious activity to local law enforcement authorities.

While clear progress in a Martinez Canyon cleanup has been realized, there is obviously a long way to go. Hamilton believes it will take a couple of summers or more to remove a majority of the trash so carelessly deposited over the years.

At this point, her primary concerns involve funding escalating costs of the project, including offsetting dump fees at the county landfill, and finding volunteers to help with phone calls and limited research.

For now, another open public meeting regarding unlawful dumping and the Martinez Canyon cleanup is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, at the PLPOA clubhouse, 230 Port Ave. Hamilton asks that anyone concerned with this deplorable activity attend and offer information, suggestions or assistance, however possible.

chuck@pagosasun.com