Abatement law enables Pierce County to remove tons of junk

The Pierce County Responds program of Public Works and Utilities recently removed nearly 20 tons of solid waste from a property on the 14000 block of 72nd Avenue East in order to alleviate health and safety risks to the property owner and nearby residents. It would take a typical Pierce County household more than 25 years to generate the amount of waste removed from this one property.

The abatement occured March 3-4. An important next step in the clean-up process involves getting a permanent injunction from the court, which gives the county jurisdiction over the property for 10 years. Quarterly inspections will ensure the property remains in compliance. Pierce County will also pursue a “Special Assessment Lien,” which allows the county to recoup out of pocket expenses associated with the abatement. The county estimates this clean-up will cost about $8,000.

The illegal accumulation of waste provides a breeding ground for rats and mosquitoes, creates odors, impacts the proper functioning of septic systems and can pollute drinking water supplies. Nuisance properties like this one can also negatively impact property values, prevent neighbors from being able to enjoy the use of their own private properties, and pose attractive nuisances to children and pets.

Pierce County has been removing public nuisance (junk) vehicles from properties since 2007. County leaders updated the public nuisance ordinance (Chapter 8.08 of the Pierce County Code) in January 2009 to permit county staff to pursue a Warrant of Abatement, which enables them to go onto private property and remove solid waste violations that pose a public nuisance.

Pierce County Public Works and Utilities works with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to cultivate an improved and more livable Pierce County. The agencies seek to educate property owners about solid waste removal and about state and local nuisance prevention laws.

“We consider abatement a ‘last resort,'” said Solid Waste Division Administrator Steve Wamback, who oversees the Pierce County Responds program. “Our staff prefers to counsel and assist property owners’ compliance efforts, rather than asking a court to order abatement. We try to get them as much help as possible first, but feel we can’t jeopardize the health and safety of others.”

Of the 23 most severe cases investigated in 2009, 17 property owners cleaned their properties on their own, and 3 other property owners complied once the county pursued a court order. Since the new abatement law was adopted, Pierce County has had to remove solid waste from only three properties.

The county created Pierce County Responds in 2002 in response to the dual problems of junk cars and the illegal dumping of garbage. The program logged approximately 2,900 complaint calls last year. Residential and commercial solid waste ratepayers fund Pierce County Responds through garbage tipping fees.

Pierce County Responds serves as the clearinghouse for reporting violations of Pierce County’s zoning and development regulations, nuisance (junk) and abandoned vehicle laws, and solid waste littering and dumping laws. Complaints can be filed online or by calling (253) 798-INFO (4636).