Downtown Lewiston cleaner than last year but trash still a problem

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

"The moment I find a place, I want out," said Shanna Bartlett, who is living in a condemned apartment building at 115 Shawmut St. in Lewiston. The mother of four has been ordered to find a new place to live by April 23.  

LEWISTON — Downtown trash might not have caused Thursday morning's fires, but city officials know it makes the fires worse.

"When you have trash or old mattresses stacked up between buildings, it's a problem," said Jeff Baril, the city's police and code enforcement liaison. "It's always been a problem, and we know it. We know where the problems are."

City fire, public works and code enforcement staffers were out in force in the wake of Thursday's five downtown fires, double-checking known abandoned buildings and looking for potential hazards.

Baril said the downtown's condemned buildings are not the problem this time around.

"We locked them up pretty tight last summer and we've been back checking on them regularly," he said. "But if you want to know the real problem, it's trash. It's always trash."

Baril said city public works crews converged on 115 Shawmut St. on Thursday right after the fires. It's a condemned four-story building with eight apartments, some remaining tenants who won't move out and it was covered in trash inside and out.

"It's a building we know is in trouble," Baril said. "The guy is losing it, and there's not much he can do. So we cleaned it to get rid of the debris around it."

City crews carried away truckloads of garbage, wood and abandoned furniture Thursday because it was all a potential fire hazard.

Shanna Bartlett, 29, one of those remaining tenants, she said she's hoping to find a new place to live as soon as possible. She complained that many of her upstairs neighbors used the building's backyard as a dump for their household trash.

"I've been working on getting that place for months," Baril said. "I knew how bad it was, but now that the snow has melted, you could see all the garbage out there. It was just a mess."

It's one of many places the city is watching, Baril said.

"We went out yesterday and checked on all the vacant properties," he said. "We've done a lot since last year, and we're continuing what we've done. We're inspecting buildings all the time. We've gotten rid of a lot of vacant properties and cleaned up others. We've made it clear we are going to clean this downtown."

City Administrator Ed Barrett said the city is opening its landfill to downtown residents and landlords in a program similar to last year's. The city opened the landfill and urged landlords to clean up their buildings and bring flammable trash and old furniture that had littered the downtown to the dump. They did, bringing in 172 tons.

Residents and property owners in the city's block grant area of downtown — the 1.25-square-mile area around Kennedy Park and east of the Androscoggin River — can get a free pass to the Lewiston Solid Waste Facility on April 14-25.

Landlords must provide proof of ownership and tenants must show proof of residency. They can pick up their passes at the Finance Department office at City Hall.

Barrett said the free pass days would be in addition to the regular cleanup week, which runs April 26 through May 3. All residents or property owners can take their bulky trash to the landfill those days, using proof of residence — a driver's licenses, tax receipts or utility bills — to avoid tipping fees.

Barrett said he hopes the free pass helps.

"I've done some driving around downtown myself today, and it's not as bad," Barrett said. "There are problems, and there are locations where there are piles of debris but not as many as we've had in the past. Mostly, it's end of winter, everything shows up again and there's been poor policing by individuals with paper, debris and garbage scattered on the property."

He added, "I don't think the situation we are in now, in terms of trash and debris, is of the same nature as it was a year ago."

Ten downtown buildings burned in late April and early May 2013 when three fires were set in or near tenements.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Despite the Rev. Doug Taylor's best efforts, downtown Lewiston was littered with trash on Friday. The Pentecostal preacher and director of The Jesus Party children's ministry is a neighborhood advocate for keeping Lewiston clean. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

A mattress leans between a fence and an apartment building on Bartlett Street in Lewiston on Friday. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

An area next to Pierce Street Playground in downtown Lewiston is littered with trash. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The eight-unit apartment building at 113-115 Shawmut St. has been condemned by the city of Lewiston. Shanna Bartlett and her four children are the remaining tenants. The remaining seven apartments are littered with pet feces, broken furniture and trash. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The eight-unit apartment building at 113-115 Shawmut St. has been condemned by the city of Lewiston. Shanna Bartlett and her four children are the remaining tenants. The other seven apartments are littered with pet feces, broken furniture and trash. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

A mattress leans against a condemned apartment building on Birch Street in Lewiston on Friday. 

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

Providing a pass is great, but..............

Providing a pass to the transfer station is great, but what about the people who either don't have a vehicle or the vehicle they do have is insufficient for hauling waste to the dump. When I lived in town, I had a nice Camry. It ran well and was good on gas, what it wasn't good at was "dump runs". Then there are the hundreds of citizens who have no vehicle at all. Now ask yourself where do I think the trash build up is coming from?
I think cancelling the clean up week in Lewiston and Auburn, is a huge factor in trash and old furniture , old gas grills, and the obligatory old air conditioner in the back hall, not making it's way to the dump.
It's simple to figure out. It's hard with the wrong vehicle, it's impossible with no vehicle. A lot of land lords who live out of state aren't any help. I say reinstate the spring cleanup. Who knows it may even save a life...................

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

The largest piece of trash

that was removed from Lewiston was when Pauly lePage left the city...



Seems to me we are always cleaning up after some defunct company that has left a trail of chemical pollution behind and the taxpayer happily picks up the bill because the community doesn't want spreading cancer. I don't see how that would be different from the city picking up trash left behind by people who have died or abandoned buildings or gotten evicted or just left in the middle of the night. It would be cheaper than cleaning up after the buildings have burned down and lord knows we wouldn't be charging the building owners, not in this town. It would also be nice if the churches who work with the downtown folks organized clean up events as they have in the past. Pretty much everyone in Maine will be cleaning up the Winter mess in the next few weeks. Most inner city folks don't own cars or trucks and cannot haul large items around. And I cannot see the wheelchair bound lady taking her large trash to the dump or cleaning up her yard on her own. Not only would cleaning up save money it would also make it a nicer place to live..

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Clair, have you ever wondered................

Clair, have you ever wondered where all the broken furniture comes from. I can remember years ago, driving down Bartlett St., One day you drive down the street and everything is normal. The a few days later, approaching the clean up date there are these eleven foot high piles the length of the street, sometime not even breaking for drive ways. Now what happens if that trash were allowed to fester for two ot three years in the basements or hallways of buildings. I wouldn't even want to think about it. You are correct, just like that old commercial, you can pay me now, or you can pay me later.................................

MARK GRAVEL's picture

The only government

The only government involvement should be work for welfare.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

How about slapping an orange

How about slapping an orange vest on welfare recipients and have them pick up trash - work for welfare.


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