Steve Jette has seen a lot of strange things along the banks of the Petaluma River since he embarked on his one-man mission to clean up its northern reaches about five months ago, but what he saw on Monday shocked him.
Stacks of tires, a rusted rototiller, slime-covered computing devices and a disintegrating vacuum, among many other things, marred the western bank of the river just north of the intersection of Corona Road and Industrial Drive. The mess, about 100 leaking, rusted objects in all, had been largely obscured by an overgrowth of brambles, which Jette spent most of Tuesday single-handedly cutting away so that media and city workers could access it.
"It's the ugliest thing I have ever seen," said Jette on Tuesday afternoon, standing calf-deep in cloudy water, saw in hand, staring at the jumble of trash. Most of it appeared to have been sitting there for years, if not decades. Above the trash and beyond a rickety wooden fence, a row of homes was visible. "I never expected anything like this," he said.
Jette is a Petaluma chiropractor and volunteer with the Friends of the Petaluma River and the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance. He started cleaning the river, actually a tidal estuary that winds through Petaluma down to the San Francisco Bay, in earnest after a public river cleanup that took place in September of 2012. His first project was cleaning the stretch behind the Outlet Mall, which took about four months to complete. Most of the time, he said, the work involves removing fallen trees, branches and small litter items like bottles, plastic bags and cans. The work has its rewards, he said, like the times he discovered a river otter splashing in the water and was startled by a hawk flying out of a tree.
He'd just started his second project, working north from Corona Road, when he discovered the dump site.
"This is deliberate, ugly," he said.
Upon finding the mess, he emailed the City of Petaluma as well as the Sonoma County Water Agency.
He said representatives of Petaluma's Public Works Department showed up in the early afternoon on Tuesday to look at the mess. The workers told Jette that they'd be back out to with a backhoe to remove the junk on Wednesday morning.
The Sonoma County Water Agency, which has an easement to help with cleanups if objects are blocking the waterway, sent a crew of prisoners to help remove the junk. They uncovered layers of trash, including television sets, steam irons, a VHS player and more.
By 10:30 on Wednesday morning, Jette said, the trash had been removed.
It's unlikely anyone will be found responsible for the dumping, as a person usually has to be caught in the act in order to be charged, according to officials.
Jette hopes the discovery of the trash will inspire others to get involved in river cleanups, starting with the next official cleanup day on May 4.
"I try to take whatever comes, and turn it into a blessing in disguise," he said.
To learn more about the river cleanup, visit https://sites.google.com/site/petrivercleanup/.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org)