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County stepping up cleanup efforts

GREEN — For a couple of years now, residents near the 4900 block of Southwest Grange Road have had to put up with a homeless camp that by all accounts is downright scary. Most days, upwards of a dozen people camp there, many sleeping in their vehicles, including several dilapidated RVs, trailers and campers.

Area residents said they are tired of the trash, noise, fights, open drug use, rodents and buckets of human waste at the site. Those residents also say they have complained to just about anyone who would listen, including county officials and law enforcement — and even filed code violation complaints — yet the problem persists.

“There seem to be more vehicles gathering here daily and the debris is scattered everywhere on this lot and on top of the cars!” area resident Sue Conner wrote to county officials last month. “I can’t begin to imagine the horror the folks who live directly across the street from this mess are experiencing.”

But now, it looks like something may finally be done about it.

In January, the county filed a complaint in Douglas County Circuit Court, stating that the individuals living at the site were violating county codes regulating trash, building codes and RVs.

The complaint asked that the people living at the site be ordered to clean it up and leave. On April 14, a judge ruled in the county’s favor. Those living at the site were ordered to move the RVs and clean up the area within 30 days. If they do not clean up the site and leave, the county will seek a court order authorizing a cleanup at their expense.

On April 25, county officials served notice of the ruling to the occupants at the site.

Douglas County Planning Director Joshua Shaklee said via email that he “appreciates and shares” the frustration of residents about the situation, and the county is determined to do something about this and similar properties.

“The situation at 4926 Grange Road and several other cases are unacceptable, and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners are using every tool available to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” Shaklee said. “This includes the commissioners spearheading a new, tougher legal approach for uncooperative owners and residents, because no county resident should be subjected to the conditions such as those present at 4926 Grange Road.”

That new approach entails going to court to rectify the situation, through what is known as injunctive relief. Shaklee explained that injunctive relief, also known as an injunction, restrains a party from doing certain acts or requires a party to act in a certain way.

“It is generally only available when there is no other remedy at law and irreparable harm will result if relief is not granted,” he said.

In December, the county commission instructed the planning department — which oversees the code enforcement program — and the county’s legal department to go to court to force compliance “where the property owners and residents have been unresponsive to county enforcement efforts,” Shaklee said.

This new strategy will provide “greater legal teeth” for enforcing county codes, he said.

Since December, 63 “non-responsive compliance cases” have been referred to the county’s legal department to initiate injunctive relief proceedings, Shaklee said. The Grange Road property was identified as one of the highest priority of those cases, he said.

By comparison, Shaklee said between 2018 — when he took the job — and this past December, he had referred only four non-responsive compliance cases to the county’s legal department for action in circuit court.

Shaklee said the county’s primary goal is compliance with solid waste, sanitation, building and land use codes, with a priority on cases affecting the health, safety and lifestyle of county residents.

“For property owners and residents that are responsive to county enforcement action, we will continue to work collaboratively towards compliance,” he said. “For owners and residents that are unresponsive or uncooperative, we will employ every remedy at our disposal to gain compliance.”

In addition to court-ordered compliance, the county is currently developing “better tools” to assist in code enforcement, Shaklee said. A primary focus is updating the county’s nuisance abatement ordinance to make it more effective. The county is also researching what other local governments across the country are doing to address the issue, and working with the county legal department to determine what can be implemented here, he said.

All that is fine and good, residents living near the Grange Road encampment said. But their immediate concern is the situation at hand. They are planning to hold a neighborhood meeting May 18 to discuss the matter.

“It’s very frustrating for all of us,” said Dawn “Dede” Nygren. “You have to listen to all the noise all night long, cars starting up with no mufflers all day long. We’ve had rats, we’ve watched people shooting dope ... people defecating and urinating on the property.”

Deputies have been to the site numerous times, but nothing ever changed, she said. Nygren was among 22 area residents who in December submitted complaints to the county for code violations at the site. Following that there was some cleanup at the site, she said, but it didn’t last.

With all that has happened, Nygren is at once optimistic and skeptical that the people living at the Grange Road site will leave, and some sense of normalcy will return.

“I’m hopeful that they will be removed and that the area will be cleaned up,” she said. “But I won’t believe it until I see it.”

Education through nature
  • Updated

Third grade students from Fir Grove and Fullerton IV elementary schools spent the day at the Eastwood Nature Days event Thursday at Eastwood Elementary School.

Students went through a variety of stations to help gain knowledge of the natural world around the Umpqua Valley.

One of the stations included a discussion about local fish hatcheries, put on by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, where the students received a hands on, up close look at the life cycle of salmons. Another exhibit was put on by AmeriCorps/Audubon and took place while taking a walk on Eastwood’s nature trail. Students were taught how to use binoculars and identify some local birds.

Native American storytelling was held in a small rustic log plank house. It is said to be a sacred experience and powerful for those involved.

There were three more stations for the students to experience during the daylong field trip: Feathers and fur, protective coloration and salmon run.

Eastwood Nature Days runs through Friday and third graders throughout the Roseburg school district will get to experience nature.

Ballots due in 4 days
  • Updated

Ballots in the 2023 Douglas County May Special District Elections are due Tuesday.

Some people in the county received replacement ballots with the message that “due to major redistricting, a district on the ballot originally issued to you for this election was incorrect.” Those receiving a replacement ballot will need to use this ballot, even if they had already submitted a ballot as the previous ballots were inactivated.

As of close of business Wednesday, 13.69% of Douglas County ballots were received by the Douglas County Clerk’s Office. This is slightly below the participation in the 2021 special district election.

On Thursday election board began extracting the voted ballots from their return envelopes and voted tallies will be scanned starting Friday. These unofficial preliminary results will not be read, or available, until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Election deadline is 8 p.m. Tuesday. “If you take a ballot to the post office on or near Election Day, ask them to stamp your envelope with a hand-cancelation stamp,” Douglas County Clerk Daniel Loomis advised. Ballots postmarked for May 16, and received within seven days of Election Day, will be counted in the election.

People can also use one of the 15 official ballot drop sites around the county to cast their vote until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

People who have not yet received a ballot, will need to contact the County Clerk’s Office at 541-440-4324.