Greg Mackie shovels off the bed of what used to be an RV at the Cathcart transfer station on Thursday. The county’s Solid Waste Division’s Environmental Cleanup Team is working closely with other departments to help dispose of old abandoned trailers and RV’s. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Greg Mackie shovels off the bed of what used to be an RV at the Cathcart transfer station on Thursday. The county’s Solid Waste Division’s Environmental Cleanup Team is working closely with other departments to help dispose of old abandoned trailers and RV’s. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

This is where all those abandoned RVs and trailers go to die

A county program recycles derelict vehicles left on roadsides and in homeless encampments.

SNOHOMISH — Greg Mackie made quick work tearing the camper body off the mildewed 1970s-era Dodge Sportsman.

Behind the backhoe controls, the Snohomish County environmental cleanup worker pierced the blue and white shell with an excavator bucket, biting into plywood and insulation. Within five minutes or so, the cab and chassis were picked clean. Mackie pushed the other 1,180 pounds of junk into a trash compactor.

“There was no registered owner, so here it is, prepared for its final resting place,” he said.

That act of demolition was carried out last week under a county program that handles derelict motor homes, travel trailers, boats and cars dumped on public land.

The crew of heavy-equipment operators with the Solid Waste Division’s Environmental Cleanup Team is expert in picking up other people’s messes. They mainly handle illegal dump sites around the community. A sub-specialty is disposing of derelict vehicles — eyesores at best, often disgusting or even toxic, and sometimes housing mobile drug labs.

“It’s really responding to a community need,” county solid waste director Matt Zybas said. “We’re working closely with other departments in the county and with other jurisdictions.”

The motor homes, in happier times, might have ferried families to summer camping trips or carted retirees across North America during their golden years. At some point, the good times stopped.

Barely roadworthy, if at all, many turned into rolling shantytowns, a backdrop for the area’s homelessness and drug crisis.

Of the 122 vehicles hauled away by the county program this year, 56 were motor homes or travel trailers. That’s similar to 2016, when crews disposed of 131 vehicles, including 85 motor homes or travel trailers.

The metal parts are recyclable, the rest mostly not.

“Probably 80 percent of the RV is garbage,” said Mackie, a heavy-truck driver.

That’s part of the reason they pose more of a nuisance than other unwanted cars and trucks, which are easier to turn into scrap.

The blue and white Dodge had come to their attention after Everett police officers tagged it at Thornton A. Sullivan Park on Oct. 21.

They brought it back to the temporary transfer station next to the county’s closed Cathcart landfill. They’re required to search out any registered owner. After waiting 15 days, they can start the recycling process.

“If the sheriff tags one, the tow companies are reluctant to even pick them up because they become stuck on their own yard,” said Scott Taylor, an operations supervisor with the Solid Waste Division. “Nobody’s going to come pick it up.”

Other challenges come into play.

Often, RV interiors are crammed with garbage — enough for a whole load to the dump.

Before demolition, air-conditioning units and propane tanks must be removed. The public works employees deal with wastewater tanks as well as oil and chemicals in the vehicle.

If it looks like the trailers have been used for drug-making, they call in the Snohomish Health District.

“At that point, our protocol changes,” Taylor said.

The junk gets pushed into 15-foot-long bales and taken to the county’s inter-modal yard in north Everett. From there, it gets shipped by rail with the rest of the county’s trash to a landfill in Klickitat County.

After going to work with the backhoe, the metal parts remain. Those go to the county’s scrap contractor, NW Auto Recyclers in Lake Stevens.

At the transfer station last week, four more dilapidated rigs occupied the demolition queue after the Dodge.

Next up was a cream-and-orange-colored Fleetwood Prowler trailer.

The interior was burnt black — something that’s not uncommon, Taylor said.

Mackie was at it again with the backhoe. The trailer emitted a charred smell as he ripped open the shell. Soon, only a frame and wheels remained for the scrap heap.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Learn more

Snohomish County’s Solid Waste Division runs a program for removing derelict motorhomes, travel trailers, boats and other vehicles from public lands. They also offer boat and motor-vehicle disposal by appointment at the Cathcart Way Recycling and Transfer Station. In some cases, they can work with private property owners to remove abandoned vehicles from their land.

Go to www.snoco.org and search “RV disposal program.” Or call 425-388-7613.

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