Citing rising water, Missoula County on Tuesday ratified a state of emergency declaring a hazardous waste threat stemming from garbage at a former homeless camp under the Reserve Street bridge.
Juanita Vero, chair of the county’s board of commissioners, issued the declaration last week ahead of building runoff, which freed up local resources to deal with the mess.
Tuesday’s vote ratified the declaration and extended it as the spring runoff builds.
“The water continues to rise, and while the vast majority of garbage – 40 tons of material – has been taken to the landfill, it’s not all gone” Vero said Tuesday.
County staff, aided with front-end loaders and dump trucks, joined an army of volunteers in cleaning up the site in recent days and weeks. The city also joined the cleanup effort, using a cable and barge to ferry debris across the river.
The camp sits in the floodplain and the spring runoff was expected to begin this week. Without immediate action, officials feared that tons of garbage and other material would have been swept into the river and carried downstream.
“Water is rising and would sweep this garbage into the river,” said commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We had to take action, otherwise we’d have seen an environmental disaster.”
Residents of the former camp have been relocated to a sanctioned camp with property sanitation facilities, including bathrooms and trash receptacles. The illegal camp had neither and had become a source of aggravation for area residents.