By Robin Mayo
In a year full of disappointments, last week we were able to complete a much needed project to clean up the Copper River Watershed. A team of volunteers joined heavy equipment donated by Cruz Construction to extract abandoned vehicles, fishwheels, and other debris from the Kotsina River floodplain, just upriver from the Copper River Bridge at Chitina. Nonprofits Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP) and Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE) led the project, joined by Bureau of Land Management Glennallen Field Office, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Chitina Village Council, and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission. Even the weather cooperated, delivering a very low water flow which made the project easier and safer.
Although cleaning up this mess has been on the wish list for years, the estimated $40,000+ price tag was daunting. But a phone call in July changed all that, when Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction offered his heavy equipment to extract the debris. He was looking for nonprofit partners to help with organizing the project, and WISE and CRWP were excited to jump on board. We just needed to come up with the money to haul away and dispose of the junk.
CRWP launched a crowdfunding effort, and the response was overwhelming, with $15,000 raised in donations large and small. We also received funds from Chitina Village, Ahtna Inc., and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. The State of Alaska, Chitina Village, and Ahtna Inc. cooperated in issuing the needed permits.
Starting on September 29, two big rock-hauling trucks and an excavator worked the floodplain, pulling out debris. Many of the large vehicles were partially buried and had to be dug and lifted out, coming out in pieces. A team of volunteers organized by Dave Cruz operated the machinery and provided ground support. The grin on Dave’s face, especially when he tugged on one tire sticking out of the river channel and pulled up a whole chassis, echoed everyone’s satisfaction.
The debris, which included at least 6 vehicles and many derelict fishwheels, was hauled to a staging area near the road, and crushed to facilitate hauling. It was loaded into highway trucks and taken either to the landfill or a recycling facility.
On Saturday, a team of about 20 community volunteers tackled the smaller trash. Job one was cleaning up the staging area. The Styrofoam floats from many of the fishwheels broke into tiny pieces, which were patiently picked up. We did a sweep of area campgrounds and roadsides all the way down to Haley Creek. A crew also scoured the shoreline of Town Lake. The volunteer effort filled a pickup truck and 20 foot trailer with about 30 bags of garbage as well as tires, metal, and large debris.
Afterwards, the volunteers celebrated with a delicious lunch by Sarah Nelson of Copper Basin Creations, and collected Tshirts as thank-you gifts. One lucky volunteer went home with the “door prize,” a CRWP tote bag full of goodies.
At every stage of this project, we’ve had conversations about how to prevent this from happening again. Certainly all the landowners need to be proactive about educating and enforcing. Since a trashed area tends to attract more trash, quick cleanup of large and small messes is challenging but essential. Chitina Village does an outstanding area of keeping up with summer trash, but need help and support from all stakeholders. We hope to make signs, and the idea of having youth artwork on the signs was presented at the volunteer event. Cruz Construction has already volunteered to install the signs!
As I finished this article for submission to the paper on Monday, I received word that a large pile of household/construction debris had been dumped on the Kotsina Floodplain. Sadness, anger and disbelief flooded my mind. But Ahtna Inc. responded quickly, sending out a crew to clean it up. We remind everyone that littering in Alaska is illegal and punishable with fines of up to $1000 and up to 90 days in jail. Working together, we can prevent another mess on the Kotsina, and keep our whole watershed clean.
Photos Left to Right- Dave Cruz uses an excavator to extract a vehicle chassis from the Kotsina River. Oversize Rock trucks were used to transport debris across the river to the staging area. At the staging area, the debris was broken into smaller pieces for loading into highway trucks. Photos: Paul Boos, WISE. The volunteer crew that removed the large debris included Denny Wallace, Gene Kubina, Chris Watson, Jeff Keller, Dave Cruz, Mike Uher, and Kade Nelson. Photo: Lisa Docken, CRWP. As this article went to press, news came in that a large pile had been dumped on the Kotsina Floodplain. Ahtna Inc. quickly sent a crew to clean it up. We encourage anyone who knows anything about this mess to contact the Alaska State Troopers. Photo: Mike Christenson.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.