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Taxpayers left holding tab for expensive cleanup at Purple Cliffs

Durango and La Plata County go with higher bid to ensure work begins immediately
Piles of discarded debris are left behind after the closure of the Purple Cliffs encampment Sept. 30. The city of Durango and La Plata County are splitting the $374,241 price tag to clean up the hillside south of Durango city limits. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Oct 31, 2022
With closure of Purple Cliffs, campers fan out across Durango’s wooded areas

Removing the piles of rubbish that pepper the forested flanks below Purple Cliffs comes with a hefty price tag.

La Plata County officials announced Tuesday that ClearView Cleanup of Durango has been awarded a $374,241 contract to dispose of the mess.

La Plata County and Durango will split the cost of the cleanup with money from the Joint Sales Tax Fund. The contract amount represents the “ceiling price” that will be paid. One other company, Ultrasteam Professional Cleaning & Restoration Services in Durango, came in with a bid of $307,000, but county commissioners and Durango City Council chose ClearView because the company is able to begin the cleanup immediately.

Tom Hamlin, right, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Durango, along with Elder Stephenson, left, and Elder England clean up debris at the former Purple Cliffs campsite on Oct. 13. Officials now request that clean up be left to professional crews. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The removal of the estimated 1,000 cubic yards of trash, the equivalent of nearly 100 dump-truck loads, is scheduled to begin Tuesday and will take about a year because operations must be put on hold when the snow begins to fly.

“Because of the type of cleanup, it is going to involve very small crews, for safety reasons, and it moves along slowly,” said Wayne Jasmer, owner of ClearView. “The focus to start with is going to be starting at the road and working a few hundred feet up the hill and trying to get that done before winter.”

Crews plan to begin removing trash Tuesday from Purple Cliffs. Cleanup is expected to take a year. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

There will likely be two crews with a total of no more than 10 people. One crew will wear protective safety suits. They will be the ones bagging the trash. The other crew will wear standard protective gear that will include puncture-proof, cut-resistant gloves.

“It’s all handwork, there’s no way to get machinery in there,” Jasmer said. “That’s part of the reason that makes it so daunting. And it’s taken four years for 80-plus people to haul stuff up there, and now we have a small crew dismantling and taking it down.”

Jasmer credits the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office for already removing the vast majority of hazardous material. And local nonprofits will be helping to reclaim generators, propane tanks and things of that nature, he said.

“The biggest brunt of the cleanup is obviously going to have to be done next year because of winter setting in, and there just isn’t enough time to logistically get a handle on that much trash,” he said. “But we will get rid of it and hopefully everybody else that gets paid a lot more money than me will come up with some solid plans that can help the homeless get back on their feet – and help the drug addicts get off the drugs and get a zest for life because we live in a beautiful area, hence the name ClearView.”

La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said the county and the city split the cost of the cleanup because the spillover of camps and trash littered adjacent city property as well as county property. The price tag for the cleanup, she said, sums up the list of reasons why unmanaged camps like Purple Cliffs can’t continue.

An estimated 1,000 cubic yards of trash must be removed from the Purple Cliffs area along La Posta Road (County Road 213) just south of Durango city limits. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
The costly cleanup has officials vowing never to allow another Purple Cliffs encampment to spring up in La Plata County. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“This makes the case in my mind to get the situation around the unhoused in our community on a much better trajectory, because we as governments would never again want to put in place or allow something that would occur that creates this kind of situation that Purple Cliffs had become,” Porter-Norton said. “From a policy-making viewpoint, this whole situation is very challenging, with cleanup, and it shows why primitive, unmanaged, unregulated, untenable camps should no longer be allowed in La Plata County – anywhere.”

Porter-Norton has toured managed camps in other states and was impressed by a promotional video of a managed camp in Los Angeles featured on the Facebook page of the local nonprofit Neighbors in Need Alliance.

“There is a policy question on the table between the city of Durango and La Plata County whether a managed camp is the way to go from here,” she said. “And that is an unresolved question. But a managed camp is completely different from the situation that emerged at Purple Cliffs.

“This is a complex situation related to where such a camp might go, and so this is where the policy debate has been centered,” she said.


An estimated 1,000 cubic yards of trash must be removed from the Purple Cliffs area along La Posta Road (County Road 213) just south of Durango city limits. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
La Plata County Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton said the county and the city split the cost of cleanup at Purple Cliffs. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
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