JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – There is a growing problem within the 86,000 acres of training and cantonment areas on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The issue is not the result of regular artillery and mortar bombardment, weekly training exercises, nor the operation of heavy equipment and Stryker combat vehicles.
The real and immediate threat to service members and the environment in these areas is trash – not just a little litter here and there, but literal tons of illegally dumped trash.
Since Oct. 26, more than 400 service members have spent over 20,000 man-hours to collect and haul away more than 128 tons, which is 256,000 pounds, of trash from the training areas on base.
To put this in perspective, one Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft can take off with a max cargo load of 170,900 pounds – thanks to four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines producing more than 40,000 pounds of thrust – each. It would take two Globemasters to carry away the trash collected in the past week.
If that’s not enough, dumping and abandonment of refuse or materials on JBLM costs the installation and taxpayers in excess of $500,000 per year.
“Illegal dumping is an issue the installation faces throughout the year that we address during weeklong spring and fall cleanups,” said Ron Grantham, JBLM Directorate of Plans, Training, Aviation, Mobilization and Security assistant plans officer. “Because the training areas are not within the boundaries of the base gates, they are vulnerable to illegal dumping from those who choose not to pay for bulk trash pickup (or to take their trash to county landfills).”
The trash left behind by illegal dumpers is as varied as it is hazardous.
“During our cleanup, we found everything from hypodermic needles to cans of old paint broken over the grass – and lots of used, disposable masks,” said Spc. Lloyd Martell, a medic from 62nd Medical Brigade. “Coming out here to pick up dumped hazardous waste is disheartening; our environment deserves better.”
Not only does the trash hurt the environment; time spent collecting trash and cleaning training areas, rather than training on them, negatively impacts unit readiness.
“Soldiers should be able to focus on the mission at hand rather than whether they are going to find hazardous waste or homeless encampments on their patrols in these areas,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Marble, JBLM Garrison command sergeant major. “We’re looking into improved security measures to put an end to the illegal dumping.”
Physical security of the training areas has tightened this year – especially along entrances to trails along trafficked roads near the base. Many roads have been blocked with physical barriers and Military Police patrols have increased.
“The dumping is not only a JBLM issue; it’s a larger community issue,” Grantham said. “We’re working closely with the Washington Department of Transportation to address the issue.”
If caught, dumpers can be fined $50 to $5,000 – depending on the type and amount of trash being dumped. Dumpers are also required to pay for the cleanup cost which begins at $500; hazardous cleanup and environmental remediation can cost thousands.
Service members are also subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as administrative actions.
To complete the work in the hardest hit training areas, some units have approved extensions to continue cleaning.
“There are still some areas that need attention, but the units definitely cleaned our installation as best as they could,” said Sgt. Maj. Jun Tomagan, JBLM operations engineer. “The support of my team, Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Ketchum and Mr. Grantham ensured that the fall cleanup was a success.”
If you have questions about illegal dumping on or near base, call 253-967-3107. When reporting illegal dumping, be prepared to give the location, type of trash and a brief description if possible – but don’t engage with anyone.
Together we can stop the littering and dumping and make JBLM a better place to train, work and live.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord website
JBLM Illegal Dumping