Lewis County crews have begun what they estimate will be a two- to three-week project to clear 20 years of accumulated garbage, tires, pallets and derelict houses packed full of cardboard and other trash from a Reynolds Avenue property once owned by notorious Centralia hoarder Vic Bonagofski.
With labor and a $90-per-ton garbage hauling cost, the budget for the most recent cleanup is estimated to be $120,000.
“Anything he could get for free, he would take it,” said Steve Skinner, manager of the Solid Waste Division of Lewis County Public Works, who said he felt the project would likely come in under budget.
Bonagofski died at age 72 in 2015 after being hit by a train while riding his bike on a Centralia railroad crossing. He was well known for collecting cardboard and other items in a trailer attached to his bicycle.
Lewis County obtained his property in the 1300 block of West Reynolds Avenue through a tax foreclosure process last year, said Bill Teitzel, supervisor for the Environmental Services Division of Lewis County Public Health and Social Services.
Since then, the Environmental Services Division already has removed about 80 junk vehicles and potentially hazardous substances, such as oil, from the site.
Crews thought they caught all the vehicles rotting on the property, but found the skeleton of yet another buried under a pile of debris last week.
“You name it, it's here,” Skinner said.
Work to clear the 2-acre property began Feb. 14 and lasted through the week. The land is in Centralia’s Urban Growth Area, and all permits were acquired through the city, Teitzel said.
The property had six buildings, including houses, a barn and a garage when the county took it over, all full of garbage and debris.
All are set to be demolished.
“We don’t know what we’re going to run into,” Teitzel said.
The largest house on the property is packed full of cardboard boxes. Crews are treading carefully in the structure after learning it might have a hand-dug well in the basement. An additional well is behind the house. The property hasn’t had power for some time, Teitzel said.
Skinner said he’s not sure yet how much of the cardboard is salvageable for recycling and how much is too far gone.
“We’re going to try to salvage what we can of it,” he said. Anything they can recycle saves money otherwise spent sending packed trucks to the transfer station, Skinner said.
“We’ve got a couple piles already of steel, scrap metal … anything that can be recycled,” he said.
Last week, piles of sorted recyclables — tires and rims, a wall of wood pallets, glass bottles and metal ranging from car bumpers to washing machines — were popping up all over the property.
Crews did a rough sort of the detritus using a excavator, he said, being careful to avoid used needles and other hazards. They have no way of knowing what is underneath the massive piles of trash.
On Feb. 14, the excavator hit something that exploded, blowing out one of its windows.
“It could have been a tire,” Teitzel said.
While this project is a massive undertaking, it might not be the largest of the four cleanups in the past 20 years that Lewis County has undertaken on one or the other of two properties Bonagofski used to amass his collection of supposed recyclables.
In 2013, Lewis County crews collected 194 junk vehicles, 42 tons of solid waste, and 956 tires from a property he owned in the 4000 block of Harrison Avenue.
The Reynolds and Harrison Avenue properties also were each cleaned up at the county’s expense in the late 1990s through nuisance abatement processes, Teitzel said.
Teitzel has worked with the county 11 years, and has been working on nuisance complaints regarding the Reynolds Avenue property and Bonagofski the entire time, he said.
“I’m just very happy to see this get done,” he said.
On Tuesday, Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund said she promised a neighboring property owner the county would clean up the land when she was first elected in 2012, and is happy the project is finally getting completed.
“We have finally been successful,” she said.