I could probably spend a lifetime picking through old articles and editorials from The Camden Herald and highlighting forgotten issues, people, and ideas that deserve revisiting.

The reason something doesn’t happen at a certain time often seems to have more to do with the way the wind is blowing than anything else. Arguments that were clearly defined and articulated 20 years ago gained little traction when, today, they might be widely embraced.

Unfortunately, the people who worked so hard a decade ago are sometimes too discouraged and tired to put themselves through the exercise of advocacy once again or unable to see how much easier the path would at this time.

I hear this a lot when it comes to the dump. While some of my most pleasant interactions in the community happen at the transfer station, there are also a lot of stories and frustrations about things that happened in the past. I, too, had dump-related grievances and they ultimately propelled me into running for an elected position in town government.

Seven years ago, my Facebook memories remind me I broke down in tears at a Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board of Directors meeting over something I can’t quite remember today. It probably had something to do with wanting a citizen’s committee for recycling. I remember sharing my experience with a couple other residents who said things like, “oh those people just want to throw everything in the landfill. We tried that years ago…”

One of my overall objectives has always been to reverse the no-salvaging policy voted on in 2006 by the Board of Directors at the time, and to garner support for salvage and reuse of building materials and other high value items frequently discarded in affluent communities.

I am one of those people who obsesses about what is lost in the waste stream and who is maddened by the idea town taxpayers subsidize disposal while actively preventing people from salvaging valuable items for resale or reuse.

This same issue in the past has pushed some of our citizens to the brink of socially acceptable behavior. Some of them don’t always express their grievances in a way that is easy to listen to, but I root for them anyway. Despite all other political differences, those of us who share a passion for finding treasure among other people’s trash tend to sympathize with one another.

Chuck Berry is one of the most notorious for seeing value in the waste stream, and one of the people who is sometimes cited as a reason for the prohibition on dump picking. I searched through the old Camden Herald’s to see if I could find examples of the extreme risky behavior I was told about in conversations.

All I could find were some articles about threats to close down the Swap Shop due to traffic congestion, volunteers being forced to pay for disposal of any Swap Shop donation that wasn’t picked up, and a man named Chuck Berry who made his living by salvaging recyclable and reusable items that would have been bulldozed into the landfill. He also refurbished discarded dolls and sent them with missionaries to kids in Central and South America. Carole Lambert wrote a great article about him in the Dec. 13, 2001, edition of The Camden Herald.

By 2007, the topic of discussion was backlash from the board’s decision to prohibit dump salvaging altogether, and serious consideration on whether or not the Swap Shop would be allowed to open. This is the kind of disconnect that is maddening to people like Chuck and me.

We all run around in circles encouraging recycling of household containers, but stand there wagging our fingers making sure no one grabs any barn boards out of the landfill. The prohibition on picking has always been pitched as a necessary measure for liability reasons. Liability is the trump card pulled form under the sleeve of every town attorney and municipal official or staff person who doesn’t feel motivated to solve a particular issue. I am immediately suspicious every time I hear it.

Do you mean to tell me the Toboggan chute is an acceptable risk for the community but we can’t figure out a way to let people salvage old doors from the landfill?

I now understand why there hasn’t always been the bandwidth to tackle this issue. With leachate overflowing into Lily Pond and persistent fires in the landfill and never-ending warning letters from the Department of Environmental Protection, elected officials at the time felt traffic congestion at the Swap Shop or the theoretical concern of someone cutting their hand on glass might just put them over the edge.

I understand this now only after spending many years as a director myself, but the path to this point has been tiring.

The only way to become a director on the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board of Directors was to first be elected to the Camden Select Board and then chosen by the other four members of that board to be one of two Camden representatives on the four town transfer station board. Did you catch all that?

I believe I may be the first person in the history of Camden to run for the Select Board with the primary goal of becoming a Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board member, but I’d love to stand corrected.

After many years and a convoluted path, I now hold the little known position of treasurer of the dump. As someone with aspirations of radical change in our waste system, I do sometimes wonder if civil disobedience and protests would be faster than the incremental change from the inside I’ve resorted to. Still, working with a group from Hope, Lincolnville, and Rockport to deal with the 200-to-300-foot water filled hole in the ground the towns collectively decided to start filling with trash has been an exercise in compromise and understanding.

Sometimes, there are truly urgent issues, actual fires to put out and bills to be paid, and they do need to take precedent over new programs and projects.

We are making progress though. Lawnmowers, bikes, and other small motor items are being fixed and resold rather than scrapped. No one considers shutting down the Swap Shop, but instead there are discussions about expanding and supporting it.

I stumbled recently upon an old editorial from 2007 that is still relevant today. I could easily quote the whole thing but here are a few of my favorite lines:

“One of the places we come face to face with — the grosser nature of our society — is at dumps and landfills and the dump on Union Street already has its fill of astonishing items — including whole houses discarded at some kind of disturbing moral cost — smoldering in the pit… the late 20th century concept that dump picking is to be restricted or banned on the basis of insurance liability has to be modified or even abandoned as a matter of public policy. We have a legislative structure available to us that is capable of addressing all questions of public liability in this area. So do it… the dumps and landfills of the 21st century should be set up to operate primarily as places where good and materials are returned to the economy and only secondarily as places where absolute waste is processed or marshaled for final extinction.”

Chuck and I are friends on Facebook and I enjoy reading many of the things he writes about the items he has salvaged over the years. We are on opposite ends of the political spectrum on many issues but seeing his posts is one of the many things that reminds me even in Camden, we all have a lot more in common than we realize.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board Vice-Chair. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.

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