Garfield County to seek cleanup costs for homeless camp area above Walmart
Campers to be notified to leave ahead of time
A massive cleanup planned for the private property portion of the hillside above Walmart in Glenwood Springs that’s been home to the homeless for several years won’t be easy.
Due to a combination of difficult terrain and the likelihood that bio-hazards will be found within the piles of trash strewn about the trees and ravines, professional services will be needed to do the work, said Joshua Williams, Environmental Health Manager for Garfield County Public Health.
Williams was charged with conducting a site assessment to determine the extent of the cleanup that will be required, before the county seeks bids to do the work.
The city of Glenwood Springs recently estimated cleanup of the various homeless camp sites within city limits will cost $200,000. The city has set aside $15,000 to help with cleanup costs on the county site, as well.
During a report to the county commissioners on Monday, Williams showed photo after photo in his slide presentation of deep ravines and thick stands of trees filled with trash.
Large and small propane tanks are everywhere, along with containers for flammable fluids, old tents and camping equipment, mattresses, clothing, furniture, bike parts, buckets, crates, water bottles — even some larger appliances have made their way to the site.
The property is owned by longtime area real estate investor David Forenza under the LLC, Glenwood Multi-Family.
Combined with neighboring Bureau of Land Management property and land within Glenwood Springs city limits, the area has been overrun for years by various illegal encampments.
The hillside is easily accessed via an old road bed that exists on the lower portion of the property just above Walmart in southeast Glenwood, said Williams, who counted “three or four” established camps at the time of his visit.
A series of deep ravines filled with trash and thick vegetation combine to increase the wildfire danger, he said.
That’s one of the primary concerns that has prompted county and Glenwood Springs city officials to take action to clean up the area.
“The main complication is the topography, which is going to add to the cost in all this,” Williams said.
There’s also the issue of human waste and the potential for hypodermic needles and other drug-use paraphernalia to be contained within the trash piles, he said.
“This has to be approached as a hazardous waste clean-up,” Williams said, meaning professional environmental services with proper protective gear.
Volunteers could still be utilized on the perimeter as the material is brought out and sorted, however.
In the meantime, Forenza has given permission for local law agencies to enforce trespassing on his portion of the site, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said in a separate interview.
The county plans to post the area as private property and “no trespassing,” and explain that any inhabitants will have a certain period of time to vacate before the cleanup begins.
“We can’t just go in and grab people and start throwing them off the hill,” Vallario said.
They can be cited for trespassing, but that’s not a jailable offense and they would just end up somewhere else, he said.
“We are working with the various groups to find some solutions,” Vallario said. “We are trying to use a diplomatic approach … but it’s a complex issue and we don’t want to have people up there in a confrontational situation.”
The hazards are real, though, he said.
“One spark on that hillside and we could have dead homeless people up there,” Vallario said.
Williams said during his Monday presentation that there may be salvageable materials in the mix that could help recoup some of the costs.
However, anything that’s deemed to be personal property will need to be held aside for a period of time to give the owners a chance to claim the items, County Attorney Tari Williams noted.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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