A former salvage yard in west Olympia that’s littered with junk vehicles, scrap metal and trash near The Evergreen State College is getting cleaned up.
And this time it might be for good.
Olympia resident Angela Ducharme purchased the 2.3-acre property at 2930 Kaiser Road during the Thurston County treasurer’s tax foreclosure auction in February for just under $14,000.
At the time, about 15 people were living on the property in old school buses, campers and vehicles.
“I call it ‘Tales from Tweaker Town,’” said Ducharme, 44.
“I had to go through the eviction process.”
The property was never developed, and it has no septic or sewer.
“Don’t open any buckets back there with lids on them,” Ducharme said as she gave a tour of the property. “My boyfriend found that out the hard way.”
The property’s previous owner, John Burnell, had a longstanding feud with Thurston County officials. In 2008, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ordered a clean-up of the property after prosecutors testified that previous efforts to bring the site into compliance with county code had been unsuccessful. Tabor gave the county authority to bill Burnell for the cost of the cleanup up to $80,000.
Burnell was arrested twice during the cleanup on suspicion of obstruction. He filed several police reports over the matter.
“They’ve destroyed everything I had left,” Burnell told The Olympian in May 2008. “It’s all in debate right now with the county.”
After the 2008 cleanup, the garbage heaps and junk vehicles began to grow again.
“He was just letting people come in and dump because he was mad at the county,” Ducharme said. The county never was able to collect on the cleanup costs that he owed them.
By the time the property went to auction, there was a $111,000 lien on the property, she said.
On an afternoon this week, drug needles littered the ground, along with empty gallon-size water bottles, food containers and rubbish. Ducharme requires visitors to sign a liability waiver before they step foot on the property.
“There are so many rats in there, I don’t like to go in,” Ducharme said as she used an umbrella to push the door open on an old school bus. “It’s insane.”
She and her boyfriend, Jeremy Panter, began cleaning up the property in March. Last week, they had two 40-yard dumpsters hauled away.
It’s a time-consuming project because they’re picking and sorting through the heaps of rubbish that contain everything from old shopping carts and buckets of bolts to musical instruments and scrap home appliances.
“I’m hoping it won’t cost me more than $10,000,” Ducharme said of the cleanup costs. “There’s much more metal and wood and stuff that can be recycled than there is garbage. That’s kind of my approach.”
Thurston County Resource Stewardship director Brent Butler said neighbors in the area contacted the county numerous times to complain about the property when it was owned by Burnell.
“There were multiple issues on that site,” he said.
Mike Taylor, who owns the neighboring property, said he thinks the county should help Ducharme with the expenses, especially since they weren’t able to recoup earlier cleanup costs.
“She should be awarded and commended and even get a plaque and given money,” Taylor said. “(Burnell) has been a very expensive problem for the county, and Angela is the knight on the white horse.”
Ducharme said she’d like to work out some type of deal with the county. She said her goal is to get the property cleaned up within six months.
Ducharme bought the property a bit on a whim: Her truck was stolen in November, and it was later found at the property. About a month later, she learned the parcel was going up for auction.
“Really, when I bought it, I was just mad about my truck,” Ducharme said. “I wanted it cleaned up. I didn’t want anyone else to find their stolen vehicles here.”
She said there were 30 junk vehicles left on the property, and none had been reported stolen. Among them were nine buses, a dump truck, a boom truck, two motor homes, a grader, and some logging equipment.
So far, she’s only come across one thing that she might keep: a tiny house.
“We might try to keep this and make it a shed at my house,” Ducharme said. “It’s on wheels so we could pull it out.”
Ducharme said her father has enjoyed digging through the heaps, sorting and finding things that are salvageable.
Panter said he likes it too.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “I’m just glad to see the place get cleaned up.”
Originally, Ducharme thought the property would be suitable for her future home, but then she learned it was in the city of Olympia’s urban growth area.
“If it was in the county, I would want to build a house here,” she said. “But I want to be able to have a fire and raise pigs.”
Ducharme said she’s received phone calls from neighbors thanking her for her efforts, and that’s helped her avoid getting buyer’s remorse. She’s also enjoyed watching the property transform.
“It’s fun watching stuff come alive, and birds come back and things growing again,” she said. “It will heal and be pretty again.”