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Pro-active litter teams patrolling six Seattle neighborhoods

The Litter Abatement Pilot, run by Seattle Public Utilities, focuses on six neighborhoods that consistently experience problems. It started in Little Saigon, South Park, SODO, the Ballard dock areas and a portion of Rainier Beach. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - A litter clean-up team is making the rounds - but this one is unique because it targets chronic dumping grounds before there’s even a complaint.

It is called the Litter Abatement Pilot and is run by Seattle Public Utilities. The program focuses on six neighborhoods that consistently experience problems. It started in Little Saigon, South Park, SODO, the Ballard dock areas and a portion of Rainier Beach.

The Licton Springs area near the Aurora Avenue corridor was added earlier this month, based on the volume of calls about garbage, needles and human waste.

The crew that goes out actually has routes it patrols. The trash they remove can be far more than just an eyesore. Sometimes it is a public health hazard.

“There are bottles of urine. There's feces, used syringes, used condoms, things like that,” said Oliver Campos, a South Elmgrove employee that contracts with Seattle Public Utilities to perform the actual trash collection and hauling services.

Campos’ team goes out twice a week to patrol designated neighborhoods around Seattle. They search for illegally dumped trash without waiting for someone to phone in a complaint.

While trash is often associated with homeless encampments, staff at SPU said they are not involved in clearing out these sites because that job is handled by the city’s navigation team. Most of what the workers deal with in the pilot project is what is tossed out by people who don't want to drive to the dump and pay the fees. They sometimes choose to leave it at or near a homeless camp

“They look at it as, ‘Hey, nobody is going to know or care if I drop off my couch there, if I drop off the trash that I don't want to bring to the dump station,’" said Idris Beauregard, the graffiti, sharps and illegal dumping division manager with SPU.

Since it started, the litter abatement team has removed nearly 119,000 pounds of trash from the public right of way. It's all done proactively - without waiting for a complaint to come in.

“We just want to get ahead of it," Beauregard says.

According to staff, the pilot project has been working so well, they hope to expand it from six to ten neighborhoods by the end of the year.

SPU budgeted $128,000 a year for this clean-up program. Some people living along the patrol routes said it is money well spent.

“If it's going to take a few weeks to respond to reports, or repeated reports, that actually seems like an efficient use of resources to go out there, and maybe save a phone call, and show that there's an active engagement,” said Steve Morrison, who lives in Ballard.

SPU deals with illegal dumping on public property anywhere in the city. People can report the problems through the city’s “Find it, Fix it” app, or by calling 206-684-2489.

The agency guarantees a response within 10 days, but said it is usually cleared away within four or five days.

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