On a normal day — if there ever is such a thing for a code enforcement officer — Dave Thomson might respond to a rural complaint about tall grass, a barking dog or a dangerous tree. He might address concerns about a junk car left to rust or a swimming pool left to mosquitos.
But he enforces illegal dumping rules in unincorporated Multnomah County, too. Thomson will commonly respond to complaints only to find a pile of construction debris, or home renovation materials, discards from a garage clean-out, or mounds of trash bags filled with household rubbish. Rarely, and most disturbing, he finds dead animals, like abandoned livestock, poached creatures or just game parts.
“Poor animals deserved better than to be thrown over an embankment,” he said.
No matter how common or gross, it’s his job to try and find out who dumped the garbage — and then make sure it gets hauled away.
But since late 2018 Thomson has been responding to some of the most troublesome dumping he’s seen in recent memory: plastic grocery bags filled with human poop and kitty litter, dropped at intervals along rural roads near Troutdale, Springdale and Corbett, all in the dark of night.
Thomson gets tapped to do all sorts of jobs, from tobacco law enforcement to restaurant licensing. Poop scooper is not in his job description. But of course, as Thomson says, “Who else will do it?”
“If I don’t clean it up it will be left to the citizens, or left there and smashed up. And if it does get smashed up, and I can’t recover it, then it gets washed over into the ditch line,” he said. “It’s just basically, I take pride in the Multnomah County roads.”
Now Thomson, who started working the night shift to try and catch the culprit on his own, is asking residents and passersby for help.
“We want to alert people to keep an eye out," he said. "There are certain spots, if anyone has camera footage of a suspicious vehicle traveling slowly on these roads, we’d love to look into that."
The bags, often plastic shopping bags from Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree, appear during the early morning hours alongside the following roadways:
Historic Columbia River Hwy, East of Springdale Job Corp.
Southeast Sweetbriar Road, between Kerslake and Troutdale roads
Southeast Kerslake Road, between Sweetbriar Road and Southeast Stark Street
Thomson doesn’t know why someone would so regularly dump fecal waste along the road, but he worries it might be someone with financial, social or health concerns. If that’s the case, he said, he can work to connect that person to services that might help. And if the burden is purely financial, he says, local residents have offered to pitch in to help.
“I just want it stopped,” Thomson said. “It’s absorbing a lot of my time, and the community deserves roads that are clean.”
If you spot illegal dumping in progress, Thomson asks that you don’t try and stop the person. Instead, get a license plate number and vehicle description, and dial 9-1-1.
“Definitely don’t try to intervene or apprehend this person. Even if I saw it happen,” he said, “I would get their identifying information and meet with them later.”
If you spot these bags or any other illegally disposed materials on public or private property, Thomson also says you shouldn’t pick it up yourself. Instead, call his office at Environmental Health at 503-988-3464.