Bears are ransacking unsecured dumpsters in Summit County, and one resident has had enough
August 8, 2018
Travis Bickford has had enough.
Bickford lives on Atlantic Lode Road in unincorporated Breckenridge, and on Monday evening he left a voice message with Patriot Management, a homeowners association management company that handled matters for townhomes across the street. He assumed Patriot was responsible for a dumpster that had been opened the night before and ransacked by a large black bear, leaving trash strewn all around the area.
Bickford said that on Monday he politely asked Patriot to clean up the trash and secure the dumpsters, and that it was an ongoing issue with condo owners or short-term renters who did not seem to know how to use, or flat-out ignored, the bear-proofing chains and bar locks that kept the dumpsters safe from bear intrusion.
On Tuesday, Bickford hadn't heard back and the trash wasn't cleaned up. He said a neighbor went ahead and took the initiative of cleaning the trash and putting it back in the dumpster.
The bear came back at around 7:30 p.m., while it was still daylight, sauntering down that same street where Bickford's kids play with other neighborhood kids. Bickford recorded video of the bear poking around dumpsters barely a hundred feet away like it was a buffet line.
Then his 7-year-old came up to him and asked a question that chilled him to the bone.
"She comes up to me and asked me, 'Daddy, can I share my popsicle with the bear?'" Bickford said.
That was the final straw. Someone's negligence could get his or other kids hurt or killed, and whoever was responsible needed to fix it, immediately. Someone needed to be held accountable. Unfortunately, Bickford soon realized how difficult that was.
Commenters on the Facebook group One Man's Junk, where Bickford posted a scathing rant against Patriot Management late Tuesday night, earnestly tried to point him in the right direction for help, but they were all pointing in different directions.
Bickford didn't want to call police or wildlife officials, as it might mean a death sentence for the bear that did nothing wrong. In this part of the county, people understand that they share their homes with wildlife.
The Summit Daily contacted Patriot Management, who told us that the ransacked dumpster was owned by the HOA company next door, Alpine Meadows. Patriot claimed they had put up notices near the dumpsters, but they kept getting torn down. Additionally, the company's owner said the bear issue isn't a new one, and people living in alpine environments should know about the risks by now.
"We work very hard to educate owners about the bears," said Ron Schuman, owner of Patriot Management. "I've been here 20 years, and it's been a problem every year."
Schuman also said that the trash hauler had been shearing the locks off the dumpsters instead of unlocking them properly when they were emptied.
A representative from Alpine Meadows, who manages the HOA responsible for the ransacked dumpster, told the Summit Daily that the company gives notices to all owners and renters about the need to keep the dumpster closed, but certain people might be ignoring the warning.
Alpine also said that there were so many short-term renters coming through that it was difficult to keep track of who was leaving the dumpsters open or otherwise following the rules it laid down. There is also a matter of outsiders using dumpsters and leaving them unsecured.
When Bickford didn't make any immediate progress, commenters assumed that, surely, the town of Breckenridge can enforce its rules on short-term rentals and trash.
Nope. Bickford lives outside the Breck town limits, in unincorporated Summit County, so nobody from the Breckenridge Police Department could help him.
So, surely, Summit County has someone available who can enforce an existing regulation that forces property owners to keep their dumpsters secured. Nope, again.
"We don't have any regulations requiring people to bear-proof or secure their dumpsters," said Jeff Huntley, county attorney. Unlike a home-rule county, Summit can't pass legislation that would force people to bear-proof their dumpsters.
As far as short-term rental regulations that might force owners to properly notify renters and be accountable if the short-termers create a nuisance, those haven't been made yet. Short-term regulations have been in the works for a while, as the county carefully evaluates how to use its land use permit and zoning powers to create a permitting system, and hire a third-party monitoring company to track complaints and keep owners accountable. Huntley also said the county would be looking into using existing authority to get people to secure their dumpsters from wildlife independent of short-term regulations. All of this takes time and discussion.
In the mean time, Huntley admitted there's not much the county can do; it can't send someone to enforce the law because there is no law to enforce.
Fortunately, Bickford's Kafka-esque odyssey started seeing resolution by day's end. After being contacted by the Summit Daily, Alpine Meadows immediately put a sign up near their dumpster telling people to keep it secured and how to properly dispose of trash in it. Bickford said he also noticed the bear bar was put back into its locked position.
Schuman said that neighboring Patriot Management was looking into canceling its contract with its trash hauler and replacing its dumpster with a bear-proofed one. Both companies promised to keep informing owners and renters about how to properly dispose of trash, and welcomed the introduction of county regulations that could bring a third-party monitor that can hold short-term rental property owners accountable.
The county is still working on hammering out regulations and hopes to have them passed by October. Huntley said they will look into a separate regulation requiring properly secured dumpsters.
However, anyone in Bickford's position can see how bewildering all of this could be for a single working parent like him.
"I also have a 2-year-old I also have to look after," Bickford said. "I don't have the time to find out who I'm supposed to call to keep my kids safe. It shouldn't be this hard to hold people accountable."
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