Incline woman runs into trouble picking up trash; seeks solutions
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Incline Village’s Carolyn Usinger is known for picking up trash around the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Many have seen her on the various roads within Incline Village, including along State routes 28 and 431 and U.S. Highway 50 picking up trash she sees along her way.
“I do it because I love Tahoe,” Usinger said. “I’ve been here since 1973 and people need to focus on the beautiful parts of Tahoe and for them to trash it, it just breaks my heart.”
Usinger has collected over 150,000 pieces of trash in the basin and often fills her car with the waste she picks up. When picking up litter during the Fourth of July weekend as well as on Labor Day weekend, Usinger was ticketed while dumping trash in Nevada Department of Transportation dumpsters.
“A patrolman from the [Washoe County] sheriff’s office came and told me that he was going to give me a ticket for illegal dumping,” Usinger said. “I was amazed. I was tired. I said, ‘This belongs to NDOT because it’s off of NDOT roads. NDOT should have picked up the trash; they didn’t. I am here to protect to Tahoe and it belongs here, so I’m not doing anything illegal.’”
As a result, Usinger received two misdemeanors for dumping trash illegally and now has a record.
“I’m very frustrated because the people who do the trash are getting off Scott-free and I have a record for dumping trash,” said Usinger. “Something’s backwards here.”
NDOT Public Information Officer Meg Ragonese explained that the agency has 15 highway maintenance crews in the Reno/Tahoe/Carson City/Gardnerville/Virginia City areas that focus on a variety of different road maintenance tasks.
“While we must first prioritize public safety and roadway preservation tasks, NDOT also undertakes continual efforts to remove litter on highways as part of our dedication to keeping Nevada’s highways in safe condition,” Ragonese said. “Each NDOT highway maintenance crew removes trash and debris to keep area roadways clean, among roughly 75 other vital highway work duties.”
Last year, highway maintenance staff devoted more than 44,000 hours to remove approximately 3,400 cubic yards of litter and debris from state roadsides across northwestern Nevada, according to Ragonese. There are also scheduled routes routinely run by crews to pick up trash and remove litter from SR 28 and 431 and US 50.
“Every community member and visitor plays a critical part in keeping the Tahoe Basin clean,” said Ragonese. “Trash and debris from recreational activities, residential yards and trash cans, as well as uncovered trash and haul loads blown from the back of vehicles, do find their way to our roads and public spaces, and potentially even into the lake itself. We routinely remove roadside debris, but trash will continue until all visitors and community members take responsibility to ensure their trash is covered, contained and disposed of properly.”
Usinger is continuing to look for solutions to pick up the trash she finds on these routes outside of regular maintenance from NDOT, but hasn’t found success yet. There is an opportunity to receive a permit to pick up trash on NDOT roads, but it must be approved and signed by the Nevada State Police and the local sheriff’s office.
“This helps ensure a law enforcement and public safety review of the trash removal locations and activity,” said Ragonese. “An accompanying waiver form and documentation provides roadside safety protocol and requirements to further ensure safety for participants and motorists.”
Usinger reported that she was unable to get the permit approved by the WCSO, meaning she cannot get permission to pick up litter on the roads.
NDOT offered Usinger her own 2-yard bin to put in her own driveway for $471 a month, which Usinger doesn’t feel she should have to do in order to keep the roads clean.
Another option is to pick up with The League to Save Lake Tahoe and their Keep Tahoe Blue cleaning crews, better known as Tahoe Blue Crews. The League’s Chief Strategy Officer Jesse Patterson explained that anyone can volunteer. Getting involved sees new Blew Crew leaders participating in a training program to discuss safety precautions, data collection, and tips for planning and executing a cleanup. After adopting a site anywhere in the Tahoe-Truckee region, leaders can commit to at least three cleanups per year.
“Our staff remains in contact with crew leaders to inquire about their progress, answer volunteers’ questions, help them troubleshoot, and to discuss ideas on how to eliminate high-frequency problem trash and litter ‘hotspots’ where trash tends to pile up,” said Patterson.
Usinger used to pick up trash with Keep Tahoe Blue, but stopped because of the sporadic nature of her pickups.
“They want you to get a team and go out on a specific day,” said Usinger. “Well, I’ve never really done that. I just go out when I see trash and I pick it up. I’ve informally adopted State Routes 28 and 431 and Highway 50. It’s a huge area to adopt. Basically, whenever I drive, if I see a piece of trash, I pick it up.”
With the amount of trash she picks up, Usinger decided there was too much to log for the Keep Tahoe Blue Crews, and she became a free agent. Patterson explained that the data from logging trash picked up is used to help science and policy experts identify trends that lead to litter abatement solutions.
“The more detailed the data, the more useful it is,” said Patterson. “But we know data collection can be cumbersome, so we work with individual crews to collect the most essential data. That could be as simple as photographs and rough estimates for total volume and weight of trash removed.”
Usinger is dedicated to finding a way to pick up trash in a safe manner while also keeping the landscapes of Lake Tahoe beautiful.
“There has to be a permanent solution,” said Usinger. “I’ve been trying to fill the gap until that happens so Tahoe isn’t trashed to the degree that it was before I started.”
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