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'No oversight' of problematic trash dumping on Wind River reservation, officials complain

Sep 17, 2019 Clair McFarland, Staff Writer

Illegal trash dumping on the Wind River Indian Reservation was deemed "rampant" by former Wind River Environmental Quality Commission Director Ryan Ortiz during a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature's Subcommittee on Tribal Relations.

In his talks with lawmakers on what he described as a solid waste crisis on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Ortiz cited problems of illegal trash dumping that stemmed from the shutting down of the 17-mile road solid waste rural transfer site at Arapahoe, for which he said funding was "not sufficient" through the Fremont County government.

(Since the August meeting in Fort Washakie, Ortiz has left the position as director of the solid waste department to work as chief financial officer for the Northern Arapaho Tribe.)

Who's in charge?

While the small rural transfer stations on the Wind River Indian Reservation are county

funded, they are managed by the recently recomposed Intertribal Council body of the Northern Arapahoe and Eastern Shoshone Business Councils.

The contract between the tribes and the Fremont County Solid Waste District mandates that the tribes keep three reservation transfer sites open at minimum.

Before the Arapahoe site was closed down, there were four, including one at Crowheart, one in Ethete, and one in Fort Washakie as well as the Arapahoe transfer station.

In a broader sense, the Wind River Environmental department defers, as a

federal entity, to the Environmental Protection Agency for grant assistance, whereas trash sites outside of the reservation under the Fremont County Solid Waste District defer ultimately to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, a state agency.

'No oversight'

At a Sept. 17 Tuesday's meeting of the Fremont County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Mike Jones of Lander said the "DEQ has no authority (on the reservation), and the EPA says they only have emergency authority. So there's basically no oversight, which I don't think is a good idea."

The interaction of jurisdictions, Ortiz said, complicates things, but ultimately the trash overflow around the remaining dump sites - particularly at Fort Washakie and Ethete - as well as all throughout the reservation on any accessible "level gravel area," is a strain that the Wind River Police Department simply can not add to its current burdens.

"I've talked to the police several times," said Ortiz, "and quite frankly they don't have the time to be the trash cops.

"They have told me specifically that they will be going to some type of emergency situation, and they can see somebody that might be illegally dumping, but they are going to something that might be a much higher priority than somebody that's dumping trash.

"That's what I've been told; I believe that that's their reality."

Spotty enforcement

The littering fine on the reservation is $40 but not thoroughly enforced, said Ortiz. Both Ortiz and Eastern Shoshone Business Council member Karen Snyder stated that it would be more costly to carry the prosecution of littering into the Wind River Tribal Court than it would be beneficial to procure the fine.

In order to change the ordinance on this, Snyder said, the Northern Arapaho Business Council can act, but the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, or governing body, can not.

"The Shoshone Business Council does not have the authority to change (the illegal dumping legal codes).

"It has to go back to our people," he suggested.

An Eastern Shoshone General Council meeting, a direct-democracy style gathering of all enrolled, voting-age Eastern Shoshone tribal members, could reconfigure the legal code on this.

That's easier said than done.

Snyder later acknowledged that the Eastern Shoshone GC of the people has not reached its minimum quorum to hold a vote in two years.

"So we're kind of... in no man's land as far a getting that (change)."

Snyder said that in order to generate the enthusiasm to hold a vote of the Eastern Shoshone people, the business council should launch a public relations campaign that emphasizes pride in the land and personal responsibility toward it.

Magnitude

Ortiz said that coSnyder and Fremont County Solid Waste District superintendent of operations Andy Frey estimated that there was about 400 tons of garbage at the Fort Washakie transfer site and 800 tons at the Ethete site - not including the garbage illegally dumped on the rural expanses throughout the rest of the reservation.

Ortiz estimated a financial effort into the hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get the sites back to manageable levels going forward.

"It's a real money problem," he said. "We have a daunting task out here."

He also said that he would likely use a Casper waste management system for the final disposal of allocated trash, saying that it was "nothing personal" against county officials, but that it would save his agency about $100,000 a year to make that change.

Fees and enforcement under county

Fremont County Solid Waste District Superintendent of Operations Andy Frey also testified before the subcommittee, and said that the county has 20 small scale, low hazard, low volume transfer stations in rural areas that are similar in every respect to the ones on the reservation, with two exceptions: they charge fees and are secured during off-hours.

"We run those sites in a somewhat different manner in that we charge fees; we have them fenced; the gates are closed and locked when the sites are not open." Frey noted that the many changes in solid waste systems and hours have indeed caused illegal dumping throughout the county, but that the Fremont County Sheriff's Office has been wholly supportive of the

county entity in investigating and charging those crimes.

Frey said Sheriff's deputies have come out "and helped us investigate illegal dumping, and pursued those that were (implicated in) said crime." Nevertheless, said Frey, his agency still contends with cleanup on a regular basis due to a "tremendous amount" of illegal dumping in Fremont County "and Wyoming in general."

The reservation dump sites, conversely, do not charge fees, at present. "In fact, the gates are swung open 24 hours a day; no fee is charged... Additionally, people are not even driving into the fenced site, but disposing of their waste right next to the site, even though it's free."

State Senator Cale Case (R-Lander) said that addressing the lax legal formations around these infractions would be the best start toward conquering the issue. "If we could get those transfer stations with someone there, and regular hours, and a locked gate, and some enforcement of the dumping - that would accomplish a lot. It would be a beginning." He also noted that charging fees might help the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission compensate for some of the funds it expends on cleanup.

Again, council woman Snyder said it would require motivation on the part of at least 150 Eastern Shoshone tribal enrollees to gather at a general council meeting - in order to make a legal change in the tribal codes for harsher littering penalties.

Grant eligibility

Representatives from the EPA attended the meeting by phone, and when Ortiz put the question of funding to them, one of the EPA representatives said that federal funding could be available, but not without a memorandum of understanding between the two tribes of the reservation making it clear to the EPA how the money would be divided and used. "Absent some sort of agreement or memorandum of understanding between Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe business councils... neither tribe, individually, is currently eligible for gap funds," the representative noted.

However, Ortiz and Snyder arranged with the EPA to have further talks on the subject as well as the construction of a memorandum of understanding.

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