MDT will remove illegal transient camps near Reserve Street Bridge

2012-12-06T07:00:00Z MDT will remove illegal transient camps near Reserve Street BridgeBy KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
December 06, 2012 7:00 am  • 

The Montana Department of Transportation will enlist professional help to clean up “The Island,” a loose community of at least 22 identifiable campsites east and west of the Reserve Street Bridge in Missoula.

Ed Toavs, MDT’s Missoula district administrator, on Wednesday told local civic and law enforcement leaders that the department was seeking an environmental contractor to do the job but he wanted to make sure they all were on board.

“There’s going to be permitting involved, so the main thing is we want to make sure we do everything correctly when we go to clean this up and we’re not missing anything that somebody else might think of,” Toavs said.

Most of the illegal camps are in the floodplain south of the Clark Fork River, on land that according to Toavs was bought by MDT to use as a borrow source when Reserve Street was built decades ago.

Many but not all the camps appear abandoned as winter sets in, but the Island becomes a teeming village of tents, shanties and, in one case, a two-story wood hut in warm weather.

Health officials worry about the excrement, trash and debris that get washed down the river, especially during high water. Law enforcement officers worry about safety issues, for neighbors, sportsmen and river cleanup crews who venture into the area, though only occasional violence has been reported over the years.

On Wednesday, at MDT’s Missoula district headquarters, Toavs called together a group that included Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen, Assistant Police Chief Mike Brady, County Commissioner Michele Landquist, Missoula Mayor John Engen (via teleconference) and city-county health officials.

On hand, too, were Travis Mateer, the homeless outreach coordinator for the Poverello Center, as well as the Transportation Department maintenance chief Jack May and maintenance engineer Steve Miller.

They discussed a three-pronged strategy to remove the camps on an unadvertised date and clean up what Ibsen said were “massive amounts of trash” near the river, all before spring runoff and ideally much sooner. Then comes the hard part – discouraging re-establishment of the camp.

Unlike other bridges in Missoula, the Reserve Street span doesn’t have people living directly underneath it. Some of the encampments can be seen by neighbors and passers-by, while others are tucked well away from view.

“It’s like Vietnam, some of it,” May said. “It’s a jungle down there. You can be 50 feet away (from a campsite) and not even know it’s there.”

Mateer has visited the Island several times in recent months to educate campers on the social services available to them in town at the Poverello Center. He said on one occasion a camper paid $200 to secure a preferred site by another who was moving out.

***

Brady and Ibsen agreed it’ll take continued vigilance to keep the Island camps from popping up again. They likened the campaign to police efforts over the past four decades to limit the illegal campsites on the Kim Williams Trail in Hellgate Canyon east of town.

“If all these years doing this line of work gives me any insight into it, we will move the difficulty rather than 100 percent eliminate it,” Ibsen said.

Mateer said he suspects that campers with the mobility to access and live on the Island will move to the Kim Williams Trail when it’s shut down.

That, Toavs said, is why he wanted to get others involved in MDT’s cleanup. It will undoubtedly effect the city, county and perhaps private landowners. The state will foot the bill for purging its own land of the illegal camps, but Toavs doubts that state taxpayer dollars can be tapped for the properties of others.

Peter Nielsen of the Missoula City-County Health Department brought the matter to MDT earlier this year after receiving complaints from residents for the past several years.

His staff has attempted to follow up the complaints by checking the site out, “but it’s been difficult to do that,” Nielsen said. “They’ve encountered hostile situations and haven’t been very productive in getting things done.”

The matter came to a head after those participating in an Earth Day river cleanup were warned by police not to venture into the area, even though it was a prime target area to be cleaned.

Nielsen said later in the summer he was in the Kelly Island area downstream from the illegal campsites and noticed “a lot of trash that I had not seen in previous years in that area – camping-related trash like sleeping bags and backpacks that obviously had washed down from, if not this area, a similar area upstream. And this one’s pretty close.”

He gave May a call at MDT and set the wheels in motion.

“It became clear the more we looked at it that maybe we’d been looking the other way on this area for a long time,” Nielsen said. “It’s gotten to where people have dug in down there and become established to a degree that’s uncommon in many other areas where folks camp.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. dave ajou
    Report Abuse
    dave ajou - December 07, 2012 12:25 pm
    The laws, which are being ignored, are already on the books. I am required to follow them. We have individuals who are not required to follow the same laws. Still too difficult a subject for you to comprehend ?
  2. in the pines
    Report Abuse
    in the pines - December 06, 2012 9:41 pm
    most intelligent comment yet, Dub. I found an earlier comment about these people very offensive. I do not see it it their "fault" for being poor, mentally ill, using alcohol either due to addiction or as a way to cope with a hopeless life. I think Wlater12 should volunteer to take in a few, after all his comments are so conservative and right wing and christian, you'd think he'd help. Probably not tho, all he does is complain, no solutions.

    Or those of you who say they should just go back to where they came from. Ain't that easy. Good comment Laulea.

    There will always be homeless ppl. And if the "fiscal cliff" is not addressed, soon and with compromising among our elected representatives, I may be having to join the camp. At least I'll be able to bring an extra sleeping bag.

    P.S. I had to change this post 2x because the Missoulian's automatic computer language checker said I'd used profanity (i.e the word bi**tch which I changed to complain. Talk about censorship.
  3. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - December 06, 2012 6:33 pm
    For all practical purposes, Jesus was a transient. Modern day Jesus would probably live in van..DOWN BY THE RIVER.
  4. Sukey
    Report Abuse
    Sukey - December 06, 2012 3:47 pm
    I think the article said they are there during WARM weather, and should be an empty camp at this time. So, they do have someplace else to go. Hey folks, America is bankrupt, the States are beyond bankrupt if you start looking at unfunded government pensions, and the counties never did have much and have less now. How's about we go over the cliff and start adding back REAL government expenses, roads, schools bridges, law enforcement, emergency health services. Let the charities take care of the rest, feeding the poor, housing the poor, etc. Make em work or starve. No food stamps, have soup kitchens.
  5. libertarian
    Report Abuse
    libertarian - December 06, 2012 3:44 pm
    Will we ever solve the problem? Why not just make it a park and charge everyone a fee, and throw in some basic regulations. We'll have to pay for all that enforcement and cleanup anyway.
  6. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - December 06, 2012 3:20 pm
    So you're saying there isn't any alcoholics among the transients on the island? Get real, and try to learn to think.
  7. Bandit218
    Report Abuse
    Bandit218 - December 06, 2012 2:24 pm
    I like the fact that one homeless paid another $200 for a space he was gonna vacate.
  8. Jason Maxwell
    Report Abuse
    Jason Maxwell - December 06, 2012 2:17 pm
    Who cares where they go just get them out of here. It is their choice to be bums... pure laziness and a lack of motivation.
  9. Dub
    Report Abuse
    Dub - December 06, 2012 2:16 pm
    Leave them alone--we may all be looking for a space like this if obama gets his way.
  10. zootown
    Report Abuse
    zootown - December 06, 2012 2:08 pm
    Many people like the life of hobo's. And as good Christians, its your duty to provide.
  11. zootown
    Report Abuse
    zootown - December 06, 2012 2:07 pm
    Right and I sure wish all the "immigrants" went back to their own homeland where they can remain poverty stricken while serving their kings or Queens. And just in case you ever get the opportunity to make your own laws (LOL), you can file it in the trash since no one will hear it anyway.
  12. MTminded
    Report Abuse
    MTminded - December 06, 2012 12:58 pm
    Aah..more simple solutions. These homeless need only vacate the "illegal transient camps" and relocate to the "legal transient camps".
  13. dave ajou
    Report Abuse
    dave ajou - December 06, 2012 12:10 pm
    A complex problem indeed. Exacerbated by attracting people who have no resources in the first place. Why has the health department not interceded prior to this ? This is a risk to public health and safety, for those individuals and the public at large. You handwringers who think that this is perfectly ok should pony up the money out of your own pockets to arrange for utlities, potable water, sanitary toilet facilities etc. Good luck with that, there's this crazy code thing you have to work around. MDT has to take on the task because our local officials are too gutless, and too invested in the "poor for profit" business to close down all of the illegal camps. Feel free to welcome them to your homes and see how long it takes for them to wear out their welcome. Either you have the infrastructure in place for proper facilities, or you don't and you don't throw all the rules and codes that apply to everybody else out the window. It's the same as 'illegal" immigration, what part of illegal transient camps do you people not understand ?
  14. Jim Lang
    Report Abuse
    Jim Lang - December 06, 2012 10:42 am
    A temporary solution to a permanent problem.

    There will always be homeless people and they will always find someplace to sleep.
  15. laurlea
    Report Abuse
    laurlea - December 06, 2012 10:00 am
    So. What are services for ppl who are either outcast, or kicked out of the Poverello supposed to do? This is ridiculous. These are ppl who have no structure. They are not slaves, they are human beings. Why are citizens relegated to the belief structure that if these ppl are going to cost somebody money, then it must be a problem to be gotten rid of? The problem is, these are people. HUMAN BEINGS. Not feral animals.
  16. TRichard
    Report Abuse
    TRichard - December 06, 2012 9:22 am
    No development on a floodplain but it could be dredged out and make a great fishing hole.
  17. loveymama
    Report Abuse
    loveymama - December 06, 2012 9:12 am
    Great. Move these people out of the place (the ONLY) place they have to call home...to move them...where? I understand and agree that the camp is not the ideal situation, but where are there people going to go? And I LOVE the comment about the "bums, transients, and alcoholics". As if alcoholics are most certainly bums who live on the street. By addressing this problem thru clearing out the only place many of these folks have to call home, we are creating a bigger problem for the community. We need to have an alternative for individuals who have no other place to go.
  18. another voice
    Report Abuse
    another voice - December 06, 2012 8:32 am
    Yes it is about time. However, I wouldn't hold my breath in anticipation of anything actually getting done and having any permanency. Look at the loitering problem around the Courthouse. City/County officials cannot clean up their own backyard you think they will police the Reserve bridge area with any resolve. The only way that land will be cleared is if the MDT has a buyer who wants to develop it.
  19. oldfish
    Report Abuse
    oldfish - December 06, 2012 8:32 am
    Ahh, once again simple solutions to complex problems. So Trout who will be buying the tickets?
  20. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - December 06, 2012 7:49 am
    Go to San Fransico and see what making it easy for transients, bums, and alcoholics to set up shop, will do for your city. There are entire towns of transients, bums, and alcoholics in downtown SF. Now even the arch leftist SF city government said it made a big mistake in accomodating those people. Does Missoula have any common sense at all left?
  21. Trout
    Report Abuse
    Trout - December 06, 2012 7:38 am
    It's about time..... Buy them tickets to the west coast and let a controlled burn clean out the area of trash.
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on Missoulian.com

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian (Missoulian.com) may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in Missoulian.com's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on missoulian.com.

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Fred Allendorf's story

Fred Allendorf confronts his journals for the first time since they were rescued from the Mount Jumbo avala…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

Missoula County Spelling Bee 2015

Missoula County Spelling Bee 2015

Emma Peasley of Sussex School takes first place and Hans Skovlin takes second in the Missoul…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston presents the latest news you need to know about today's h…

Chinese LV Breakup

Chinese LV Breakup

Video by Rick Heilman.

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian reporter Kate Haake presents the latest news you need to know about today's headl…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

The 4:06 – trending topics and hot headlines

Missoulian digital director Emily Foster presents the latest news you need to know about tod…

Les Schwab

Deals & Offers

Search our events calendar