PUBLIC LANDS -- Cleanup continues at the Illia Dunes area along the Snake River downstream from Lower Granite Dam after last weekend's college-crowd of about 3,000 left the popular recreation site marred by trash.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Snake River shoreline in that stretch, closed the area until it can finish the cleanup, including getting glass out of the water area and testing water quality.
Signs warn that glass is prohibited but that rule, among others, was not observed last weekend.
Corps spokesman Bruce Henrickson said volunteers have offered to help clean up the mess, but for safety reasons the Corps is using only volunteers it has organized.
No decision has been made as of 1:30 p.m. Friday on whether the area will be open for the Labor Day Weekend.
Corps officials said they will be reviewing whether they should adopt a policy of prohibiting alcohol use at the site.
Read on for more details from Henrickson.
Summary as of Friday morning, Aug. 31, 2012:
By Bruce Henrickson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
REOPENING PLAN: We haven't yet decided when to reopen Illia Dunes. We can't reopen until a) cleanup is done and b) water quality samples indicate it's safe to enter the water. We took water quality samples to test for water contamination, but I haven't seen test results yet. Maybe we'll have them this afternoon. We can't open the beach up until water quality samples are returned and water is considered safe for public access, and the underwater portion of the beach is cleared of bottles and other debris (which we should be able to do tomorrow with a volunteer crew--see below).
Our Lower Granite Natural Resources office is working with WSU Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), which is a single-point coordinator to provide WSU student volunteers from fraternities and sororities. CCE offered to provide 60-75 student volunteers and bus them to Lower Granite for the cleanup.
We decided to work with a single organized group of volunteers for operational/supervision efficiency and in order to keep those volunteers safe. For example, we asked their coordinator to ask each student volunteer to wear sturdy shoes or boots; hat; sunscreen; insect repellant; gloves; bring water (and we'll provide more drinking water). We also asked them to bring swimwear or shorts for the in-water cleanup.
Keeping Illia Dunes and other Corps recreation areas open long-term will be a joint effort of volunteer help, responsible use of Corps parks by visitors, and Corps management of those public lands. We appreciate public and volunteer support in that effort to keep Corps recreation areas open.
First priority was for our staff and grounds maintenance contractor to clean the shore area of the Dunes. That's because we didn't want that trash to blow around the area and cause even more problems.
What still needs to be cleaned up are three miles of ditches between Illia Dunes and Lower Granite dam, and the underwater portion of the beach. One of the reasons this area is so popular is because it has several acres of shallow water.
We collected an enormous amount of garbage during the first three days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)--3,000 pounds of garbage so far including hundreds of Styrofoam coolers left behind. Garbage is being taken to the Asotin County Landfill. It was a mess.
Knowing that a large volunteer crew was arriving on Saturday, we decided to conserve our staff resources and not continue trash collection yesterday (Thursday) and today.
This year's peak recreation season at Illia Dunes will soon come to an end as we begin our normal seasonal raising of the (Little Goose) reservoir water level at Illia Dunes.
We're reviewing what happened and looking at options for preventing similar events in the future. Because the peak recreation season is almost over at Illia Dunes, our efforts to prevent similar incidents are aimed at next spring.
Alcohol is not banned at Illia Dunes, but we are reviewing the situation. Banning alcohol, or not, are options available to us. Most of all, we ask our visitors to drink alcohol responsibly and not leave trash behind, not take glass containers on the beach, and enjoy their visit without breaking any laws or offending other visitors.
The District commander has authority to ban alcohol. Most medical response calls at Illia Dunes are alcohol-related. We currently have alcohol bans at Greenbelt Ramp, Chestnut Beach, Swallows Park in Clarkston and we have a alcohol ban on the Little Goose Esplanade (usually referred to as "the Wall") at Little Goose Lock & Dam.
A typical summer weekend crowd at the dunes is 100-300 visitors. 1500-2000 visitors at Illia Dunes has been our largest in the recent past, and usually on holiday weekends or just before school starts. The crowd of 3,000 is the largest crowd our park manager has seen since his arrival in 2001.
We don't know specifically where our Illia Dunes visitors come from, though many cross Lower Granite Dam to reach Illia Dunes. Many appear to be of college age.
The Corps did not receive any specific requests for group events Aug. 25-26. In the past, we have found a few advertisements for unauthorized "events" at the dunes.
We ask for the public's help in several ways. First, glass containers are not allowed at Illia Dunes. That is well-posted at entrances. Second, we provide free trash bags and ask that visitors take their trash home with them; federal recreation budgets have been cut, and we can manage to keep recreation areas open, but we need help from visitors in removing their trash. We THANK our visitors for their assistance.
The current Illia Dunes closure is indicated by traffic cones and signs at the site. We ask that the public stay out of the area until further notice.