State program puts local teens to work collecting trash along roadways

A dozen Clark County young people part of Ecology Youth Corps

By Stefanie Donahue, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Did you know?

• Fines for littering can reach up to $1,025 and fines for illegal dumping can reach $1,000 to $5,000 plus jail time.

Source: Washington State Department of Ecology

Dressed in an orange vest and plastic hard hat, 17-year-old Keziah Black was ready to clean the littered roadside of Interstate 5. Her goal to major in environmental biology prompted her decision to join a six-member crew of teens hired to clean along the roadways.

Teenage crew members and adult staff with the Ecology Youth Corps want motorists to be aware of the roadside workers and drive safely when passing by. The crews also want drivers to know they are not criminals.

"It is good to have the experience," Black said. This is her first job working in her field of interest, she said.

Ecology Youth Corps, which is operated by the Washington State Department of Ecology, is the largest youth employment program in the state. Teens ages 14 to 17 can apply for a position, which pays the state minimum wage of $9.19 per hour.

This year, 239 Clark County teens applied to join the Ecology Youth Corps but only 12 were hired, said Ariona, the program's regional litter administrator and coordinator.

"These are all top-of-the-class kids," said Ariona, which is her full, legal name.

Armed with gloves, neon vests, helmets, eye protection and plastic bags, the teens began their work Monday near the Gee Creek Rest Area west of Battle Ground. The crew encountered a wide variety of highway trash, from cardboard and plastic foam to diapers and snakes.

"The work is moderately easy," said 15-year-old crew member Alexandria Williams. "Someone has to do it."

The first of two Clark County sessions this summer began July 1 and will run until July 29. The second session will go from July 29 to Aug. 21. Each crew has six members, who only work one session.

Crews are also working in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pierce and Thurston counties.

Safety first

The Clark County crew is along Interstate 5, state Highway 14, Interstate 205 or state Highway 500 picking up trash and recyclables for71/2 hours a day, Monday through Friday, said crew supervisor Jerry Rubadue.

The crew goes through required safety training before working along the highways, said John Enslow, who monitors the crews in the region. Staff takes safety very seriously, he said.

"If they touch the fog line, they are fired," Enslow said.

The Ecology Youth Corps acts as both a source of education and job experience for the teens, said Rubadue, who has supervised crews for 19 years. The youth corps is many of the kids' first job, Enslow said.

In addition to picking up trash, the crew goes on field trips to places such as the Water Resources Education Center and Columbia Springs to talk about water treatment, Rubadue said. The field trips are all focused on environmental education.

The Ecology Youth Corps is funded through a litter tax on manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers whose products contribute to litter problems within the state, Ariona said. Some additional money for the program comes from the recycled materials collected by the crew, Enslow said.

By the numbers

• 150 to 160 bags of garbage and recyclables is the one-day record.

• 100 bags, on average, filled per day.

• 1,156,782 pounds of litter picked up in Washington in 2012.

• 142,825 pounds recycled in Washington in 2012.

• 366,945 pounds of litter in the southwest region in 2012.

• 6,372 miles cleaned in Washington in 2012.

• 1,126 miles cleaned in the southwest region in 2012.

• 4 to 8 miles cleaned by crews each day.