With help from the community, Pottawatomie County commissioners and others the Pott. County Sheriff's Office's Environmental Crimes Unit cleaned up over one million pounds or around 500 tons of trash in 2019.
According to Environmental Deputy Shaun Copelin, he along with several volunteers cleaned up five major dumps last year that have been polluting the county for several decades.
"In 2019 we cleaned up four legacy dumps. Those are the big ones. We did Abbey Road, Tribbey Dump, Crosslin Road, Dutton Road and River Road," Copelin said.
The deputy said Tribbey Dump was one of the oldest and it was the clean up that sent Environmental Crimes to over one million pounds of trash.
"I think I'm most proud of getting the Tribbey Dump cleaned up because that was the one that when I took this job people (said) 'you'll never get that cleaned up," Copelin said. "So I take a lot of pride that we got that one taken care of."
Copelin explained the program began in July of 2018 and for its second year several members of the community and county government showed a lot of support.
"I very happy about the county commissioners donating a truck. That made my job much easier," Copelin said. "We've had so many citizens that are starting to go out and clean stuff up on their own. So that to me shows that (the program) is working and people are getting excited about it."
In November, Copelin said he won two awards at the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful's 29th Annual Environmental Excellence Celebration.
The deputy said he won Best of the Environmental Best and the Law Enforcement category award.
"I'm honored that I won those awards. It's not why you do it, but it's nice to be recognized and it was nice of KOB to recognize me," Copelin said.
Copelin said overall 2019 had many highlights in addition to cleaning the big dumps and wining his awards and he's grateful to the community.
"The support of the public, the county commissioners and the way that the program has kind of caught fire with the citizens that's what's most gratifying," Copelin said.
It was a good year for the program the deputy explained, but he's looking forward to taking the program to the next level in 2020.
For 2020, Copelin said the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded the program about $18,000 which is the least funding it has received from DEQ.
However, the deputy said county commissioners awarded the program around $20,000 and he will continue to write grants and work with organizations who may provide funding.
"We're going above and beyond just what the grant is for the position," Copelin said.
The deputy explained the program will continue to clean up dump sites, but it will slightly shift its focus to education.
"We're trying to develop a program for elementary school (students and) to do some education programs," Copelin said. "I'd like to try to bring back the Adopt A Road program."
The education programs, Copelin said will teach students how trash pollutes water and how littering effects wildlife and other elements of nature.
In addition to education, Copelin said Environmental Crimes will try to find a mascot in 2020 and more volunteers.
The deputy said he has already begun planning a major clean up at another legacy dump near Leo Road.
"It's another one of those dumps locals told me it has been there for 30 to 40 years," Copelin said. "I predict we'll get minimum 100,000 pounds, but depending on how deep the trash is we could get 200,000 to 250,000 pounds of trash out of it."
Copelin said he hopes to finish that clean up before April and at the moment he and DEQ are finalizing the details.
In addition, Copelin said for 2020 he's trying to build a small army of volunteers who can help clean up smaller dump sites that don't require equipment, but need multiple people to clean.
This Saturday, Jan. 4 at 9 a.m. the deputy said he and around 15-25 volunteers will be cleaning up Garretts Lake in front of North Rock Creek Public Schools.
Another program the deputy hopes to develop is Add One which would ask people to have a spare trash bag when they're out and about and fill it up then add it to their trash service.
As the new year continues, Copelin said he's looking forward to developing the education program, finding more volunteers and keeping Pottawatomie County clean.
"It just seems like we're starting to take a lot more pride in the county," Copelin said. "That's very rewarding."