Hope Elementary School has an incredible back yard.
Trees with green, orange and yellow leaves flank the little school. Dark hills loom above, their slopes swathed in the cotton of low-hanging clouds.
If Bonner County commissioners have their way, a garbage collection site will be built about 200 yards away. Opponents of all stripes say they’ll fight the plan, which reeks of shortsightedness to them.
Some say the trash collection depot would pollute nearby wetlands - some within a wildlife preserve. Neighbors complain their property values will drop. Parents are worried tons of trash will attract bears, which already have raided the school’s Dumpster. Others fear the depot will encroach on land considered sacred to many Native American tribes.
“(Tribes) were meeting there as late as the 1930s,” said Jane Fritz, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Mythweavers, a group dedicated to preserving Indian culture. “There are living elders who remember going there.”
The county was supposed to sign with a contractor Monday to begin building the depot, but all the brouhaha has stopped the deal for now. Commissioners will give opponents a chance to plead their case today at their 6 p.m. public meeting in Sandpoint.
Fritz said the county has tried to sneak the trash under residents’ noses.
Commissioner Steve Klatt said there’s nothing rotten in the plan and that the county has discussed it openly since last December. “We have no documentation that it’s on an Indian campsite,” Klatt said.
The one-acre trash center would be fenced. It would open with about eight Dumpsters, and the number of Dumpsters could be expanded later. Fritz says she fears the number could more than double.
If someone comes up with evidence of an Indian meeting place or proof that garbage will pollute the area, Klatt said, the county will rethink the plan.
“If there is something that we have overlooked, we need it brought to our attention.”
Fritz said she has talked to elders who used to travel to the site as children. And ancient petroglyphs of bear prints have been found not far off, she said, proving the site has been sacred for centuries.
The wetland area, Fritz said, starts just a few feet from where the Dumpsters would sit. “You can see how wet it is here,” she said, walking across the marshy ground which sank beneath her feet.
Wildlife biologist Jenny Taylor said the spongy soil would allow oil and chemicals to seep into the nearby Dalton Slough, poisoning waterfowl.
Taylor cites three-legged frogs that have been been seen in other parts of the nation. “It sounds like chemical contamination to me,” she said.
“I’ve never been to a dump site where nothing has spilled.”
The new dump site would be fenced and staffed, Klatt said, preventing trash from being strewn about.
Hope’s current dump site desperately needs replacing, he said. It’s unfenced, and dumpers, some from out of state, clutter nearby natural areas with trash.
“The current one looks like a garbage pile,” Klatt said.
Opponents pretty much agree the area needs a new facility. They just don’t want it at the planned site.
Some staffers and parents of children at Hope Elementary are up in arms because of bears.
“I think the biggest concern is having bears in the area where kids are on the playground,” school secretary Debbie Conn said.
Dave Ramirez, a school custodian, said he also fears bears.
In June, one came after Ramirez while he was emptying trash into the school’s Dumpster.
“He chased me right to the door” and then scratched to get in, he said.
Ramirez, whose mother is Apache, said he also worries about the old Indian meeting ground.
In the past, he and others have found arrowheads and other artifacts where the dump site is planned.
Fritz said she’ll keep making a stink until the plans are changed.
“Somehow, I can’t get over the irony of this being a white man’s trash site.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of proposed garbage transfer station area
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEETING TONIGHT Foes of the planned trash depot can voice their objections today at the county commissioners’ 6 p.m. meeting in Sandpoint.