By Steve Yetter
The Kasota Ponds Wildlife Area is situated west of Minnesota Highway 280 on the St. Paul–Minneapolis border and extends from the southern end of Hunting Valley Road to the BNSF rail yards. These wetlands are part of the Bridal Veil Creek sub-watershed and provide habitat for a surprising amount of wildlife, including migratory waterfowl, turtles, wild turkeys, deer and woodchucks.
The Environment Committee of the St. Anthony Park Community Council has sponsored cleanups of this area each spring since 1990. In recent years, illegal garbage dumping in this area has become a larger nuisance. At this year’s April 16 cleanup, volunteers pulled more than 30 car tires, six metal box springs, five water softeners and more than 40 bags of miscellaneous garbage from the north Kasota Pond. In a cleanup several years ago, Terry and Otto Gockman pulled a safe from one of the ponds that turned out to be from a burglary.
Metro Metals, a business near the north pond, draws a consistent stream of metal scrappers hauling loads they hope to sell for cash. Scrappers often use the Hunting Valley Road turnaround near the entrance to Metro Metals and overlooking the north Kasota Pond, to sort through their loads. It appears that some items not accepted for purchase by Metro Metals are dumped into the north Kasota Pond.
At this year’s cleanup, I confronted a couple of guys sitting in a truck beside a hill strewn with garbage leading down to the north pond while they waited for Metro Metals to open. They were pretty sheepish when I asked them if they knew anything about nearby garbage, but denied having illegally dumped garbage into the ponds or having seen others do so.
After a while they started poking around the pile of garbage pulled from the pond and asked if they could take the metal box-spring mattresses and try to sell them. First I said, no. Then I said, yes, but only if they helped with the cleanup by each filling a bag of garbage. Which they did. When they removed the box springs off the pile, I asked that if Metro Metals rejected them that they put them back on the pile and not throw them in the pond.
Twenty minutes later they were back on the pile.
Though the City of St. Paul spends more than $250,000 per year cleaning up illegal dumping, this figure does not take into account all of the volunteer labor involved in cleanups like the annual Kasota Ponds event. If volunteers didn’t pull the trash from the ponds and put it into tidy piles for the city to collect, it may never be cleaned up under the current system. Despite signs warning dumpers of a $700 fine, dumping continues in the Kasota Ponds. In 2014, other cleanup volunteers and I captured cellphone video of illegal dumpers in action just after we had cleaned up the area. We called the police, but when an officer finally arrived, the dumpers were gone and we were told that the video was not sufficient for a prosecution. The officer told us that illegal dumping in St. Paul was a byproduct of the lack of organized trash collection and that Minneapolis does not have this problem because the City of Minneapolis provides garbage collection to its residents . The Macalester-Groveland community came to a similar conclusion in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in their recent report on trash collection, “Taking Out the Trash.”
My own experience as a St. Paul resident bears out the observation that a lack of organized trash collection leads to illegal dumping. I have had two roll-off dumpsters for home-remodeling projects over the past few years. Soon after the dumpster arrives, it begins to attract a lot of nonconstruction garbage that mysteriously appears when I am not looking. For some, Kasota Ponds has become a “free” dumpster, but it is our neighborhood and the resident wildlife that pay the price.
Steve Yetter is a resident of St. Anthony Park and a longtime volunteer at the annual Kasota Ponds cleanup.