The 11-acre Alberton dump continues to be in the crosshairs of the Department of Environmental Quality sites. Currently, cleanup efforts seem to be coming to a close, and hopefully the case will be permanently closed. At least that’s what property owner Joe Hanson is hoping for.
The 100-year-old town dump was targeted for cleanup by the state with a final agreement made in 2016 between them and Hanson. As junk vehicles, tires and other solid waste is hauled away to other waste facilities, the case is coming to a close but not at a low cost.
In addition to the expense for removing the waste, Hanson is also paying with his health. He said the stress of it all has caused him to suffer from health issues. He scratches his head as he sits in the old mercantile building he owns in Alberton.
“Out of 129 incorporated communities in Montana why does DEQ have the Alberton dump so high on their lists of concerns?” he said, holding a compliance letter from the department dated July 10, 2018.
In his late 70s, the ordeal of cleaning up the site has put considerable strain on his energy and his funds. Part of the removal has been piles of old automobile tires. So far, he has removed 800 tires, at the cost of a dollar each, which have been hauled to Pablo for recycling. In addition to those are junk vehicles, various forms of solid waste, and now an old trailer needs to be removed by Oct. 1.
“Joe has made significant progress on the cleanup,” said DEQ enforcement officer Mike Rieger. “At this point I believe all that is left for Joe to be in compliance is removal of the remaining waste tires and any remaining solid waste on the property, including the abandoned trailer.”
A group of Alberton residents helped load some of the tires and a few other volunteers have helped with other projects over the past few years. But the bulk of the responsibility has fallen on Hanson.
FRED THOMPSON, who owned the Thompson Ranch located east of town, had given Hanson the property in 1970.
“I went to Fred and asked what he was going to do with it and he asked what I wanted to do with it. I just figured I could do something with it, not sure what,” Hanson said. Thompson had replied, “Good, I’ll give you the same offer I gave to the town. As long as you pick up the stuff off of the ranch and provide a service to the town of Alberton for people to get rid of their stuff and so they’ll quit dumping it on my ranch, we got a deal,” and the transaction was sealed with a handshake.
But the deal made with a handshake had come to an end when Hanson received a letter from DEQ on Aug. 2, 2016, stating he was in violation of the Solid Waste Management and Motor Vehicle Recycling and Disposal acts.
“But I didn’t see that far down the road,” he said regarding the implications of the dump’s cleanup when he agreed to accept the property.
A BENEFIT to help Hanson with some of his medical bills will take place on Sept. 15 at the Alberton Community Center. It will include music, auctions as well as a presentation by Montana PBS producers William Marcus and Gus Chambers.
“Joe has been a real patron of public broadcasting,” said Chambers. “For a man who lives as simply as Joe, he continually gives to the station.”
Chambers said they first learned about Joe when he was the town mayor and was running the dump. He featured Hanson in a segment of the popular “Backroads of Montana” television series. Since then Hanson has helped the PBS crews with several documentaries by letting them shoot scenes on his property and at various locations around town. Chambers and Marcus will show those scenes during a presentation at the benefit.
Over the years, Hanson has put in countless hours helping those in need in and around the Alberton area. He has been the town mayor, and has sat on the town council several times.
“It’s the least we can do for someone who has given so much to this town. It’s time we give back to Joe and help him out,” said neighbor and friend Liz Gupton, who is instrumental in organizing the benefit.