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Vietnam veteran picks up trash and hunts for litterbugs

 

By Susan Johnson

Larson Newspapers

 

Gary Chamberlain thinks litter in the Verde Valley is so prevalent it’s making the area look like a third world country.

There are plenty of people who agree with him.

A Vietnam veteran who was shipped home from the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Armored Division B Troop with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Chamberlain is an independent contractor who exercises by

riding his bicycle from Cottonwood to Sedona and back.

Those jaunts give him a close look at all the trash along Highway 89A.

On one recent day, everyone pedaling, jogging and walking the route had to dodge broken glass, discarded electronics, two-by-fours, couch cushions, slabs of broken concrete, beer cans, a large broken wine jug, a mattress, strapping tape, lug nuts, spirals of tire and too many other items to list.

“Is there a social message we’re missing here? Right now, there’s a whole couch on Cornville Road,” Chamberlain said. “Does anyone know who it belongs to? I’d like to return

it to them.”

He believes that most of the people responsible for the mess are driving large trash transfer trucks, construction vehicles, landscape vehicles, uncovered trailers and pickup trucks.

Then there are the beer drinkers, cigarette smokers and fast food patrons who launch their litter out of the car window.

“The forensics are there to catch people if we pay attention,” Chamberlain said. “Everyone needs to report littering to the Arizona Department of Public Safety and to the Yavapai County and Coconino County Sheriff’s Offices so those agencies can create a history file.”

In addition to sending apprehended litterers out to clean up the road they’ve just trashed, Chamberlain would like to see speeders and other traffic violators out there helping them.

Cottonwood Municipal Court currently imposes community service judgments on some defendants, requiring them to work off their time at the library, the fire department and other local nonprofit agencies.

Court Clerk Ronda Brockman said details including how defendants would be supervised need to be worked out before Judge Richard Serden can impose litter removal.

In the meantime, the trash piles up.

Not only is it unsightly, it’s hazardous to bikers and pedestrians traversing the roadway, and it can also harm people in their vehicles by causing tire blowouts and other damage.

On March 2, a metal ratchet from a flatbed truck flew across a median on Interstate 17 in Phoenix, bounced onto the highway and then shot through the windshield of a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction.

The truck’s passenger, Timothy Dunavin, 42, of Waddell, died from blunt head trauma on March 5.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officers are seeking the identity of the ratchet truck’s driver.

In addition to human hazards is the taint on local communities and businesses.

Not so many years ago, Sedona was voted the most beautiful place in America by USA Weekend.

Today, the reality is far from pretty, with Highway 89A as it approaches Sedona looking as bad or worse than roads in Phoenix, and Highway 179 at its intersection with the I-17 exit for Sedona frequently looking like the town dump.

These conditions do nothing to enhance the image of the red rocks, causing negative comments from visitors.

ADOT workers assigned to this section of the road spend some of their time picking up debris, but there are only 15 field workers tending to 500 miles of roadway.

Asphalt repairs, guard rail repairs, drainage issues, traffic control, removal of dead animals, snow removal, and rock and mud removal compete with litter removal for their time, according to Mike Gutzwiller, ADOT highway maintenance supervisor.

That leaves most of the picking up to 13 organizations participating in ADOT’S Adopt a Highway Program.

While some of these volunteers are diligent, Chamberlain believes others are not, based on debris that remains along the road for months on end, their efforts limited to getting a free sign for their business or organization.

One of the things he’d like to see is better documentation by the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Adopt a Highway Program, providing evidence that those with sponsorship signs are actually picking up litter.

To date, employees working for ADOT have not provided Chamberlain with information on volunteer activity.

“That makes me wonder: Is this system being properly managed by state employees?” Chamberlain said.

At present, he is working on arrangements for a one-day, mass cleanup for the section of Highway 89A from Cornville Road to the Cultural Park, seeking as many volunteers as possible.

He also hopes to involve local law enforcement agencies, providing crime scene investigations on items found that day.

To volunteer for the one-day cleanup or to help abate litter in the Verde Valley in any other way, e-mail Chamberlain at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. using “Road Warrior” in the subject line.

To report littering, call the Arizona Litter Hotline at (877) 354-8837 or fill out the litter form at www.arizonacleanandbeau

tiful.org. Contact information for the reporter is required but is kept strictly confidential.

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