A person picking raspberries in Ellsworth’s Branch Lake Public Forest stumbled upon about 30 barrels of paint, flooring adhesive and other construction materials on the morning of Aug. 2, and reported the pile of waste to the Ellsworth Police Department. Within 24 hours, police cleaned up the majority of the litter, but the investigation on who is responsible is ongoing.
Detective Dorothy Small of the Ellsworth Police Department visited the site, which was actually just outside the boundary of the city-owned forest, on private property that is easily accessed from the tote road, a road for hauling supplies, that leads into the public land. The litter, she said, looked like it had been there for at least a couple of years. In fact, Small found a 2007 receipt on one of the paint cans, which she tracked to a Bangor area company that is no longer in business.
“The person who bought the company, I talked to him,” Small said, “and he said he’d come down and look at it. He didn’t have anybody working in this area, but he came down and looked at it and said this is definitely not stuff they use.”
The man offered to transport the many barrels of Sherwin-Williams paint in his pickup truck to recycle it through the PaintCare program.
“He was very helpful,” Small said.
The other materials at the site are being cleaned up by the landowner, Small said.
“I’m still looking into it, but I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to solve it,” Small said. “We honestly don’t know how long it’s been out there. There was a wasp nest in some of it, so those don’t come overnight.”
In an effort to learn more, Small posted photographs of the scene on the Ellsworth Police Department Facebook page with the caption: “If anyone knows who decided to make our City Forest their personal paint dumping spot, please call us at 667-2133 or anonymous 669-6614.”
In the course of 24 hours, the post received 36 comments from members of the community. These comments included suggestion to contact the store where the paint was purchased — which Small had already done — as well as the suggestion to check the paint tubs for fingerprints.
“Quite frankly, you cannot get fingerprints off a 2-year-old paint can,” Smith said. “And if you could, you’d then have to have something to compare them to.”
Many of the comments on Facebook were simply people voicing their disapproval of the blatant littering.
One commenter, Susan Liddy Tripp, wrote: “The City just posted a hazardous waste collection coming up. This is absolutely uncalled for. Maddening…”
Every year, the City of Ellsworth participates in an E-Waste Collection in July and a Household Hazardous Waste and Universal Waste Collection in August. This year, the E-Waste Collection is scheduled for 7 a.m. to noon July 22 at the Home Depot parking lot. All Ellsworth residents and businesses are welcome, and all donations go to high school scholarships.
Another commenter to the Facebook post, Nikki Graham wrote: “I see a lot of spots [where] people have just dumped stuff in the woods. It really pisses me off.”
Graham isn’t alone. For many people who enjoy spending time outdoors, littering is a huge pet peeve. One of the most widely accepted set of outdoor ethics, Leave No Trace, has seven key principles, and among those is “dispose of waste properly.” Trash not only ruins a natural setting aesthetically, it also can seriously affect the environment, including resident wildlife, soil and water quality and vegetation.
The city of Ellsworth acquired the Branch Lake Public Forest from the Mary C. Fenn Trust in 2010, as a part of a $2.4 million conservation initiative that protects nearly 1,200 acres of Branch Lake Watershed, according to a 2012 BDN story. Then, working with the Frenchman Bay Conservancy and the Maine Conservation Corps, the city created a network of hiking trails on the property, as well as a hand-carry boat launch. To date, the property is home to 2.6 miles of traditional hiking trails, as well as a gravel tote road that measures over 0.5 mile and is used for walking, running and biking.
Littering is prohibited.