Guest Commentary: Centralia ‘Clean Team’ Offers an Example for the State


As senator from the 19th Legislative District, I am proud to represent the people of our area and advocate legislation that promotes their interests. In this corner of our state, we have one of the most beautiful natural settings anywhere, with mountains, beaches and forests — an evergreen paradise.

I think all of us would agree its preservation is of great importance.

Unfortunately, Olympia tends to see environmental issues in terms of slogans, top-down government mandates and stringent new requirements — and nevermind how much they cost or how much good they do, if any.

That’s why the work of the Centralia Clean Team is so important. It shows what a community can do when it develops a consensus and works together, and it offers a model for the state. The program is bottom-up, not top-down. And it focuses on the most visible and basic environmental issue of all — picking up the trash.

For the last three years, the Centralia Clean Team has met on Saturdays to tackle high-priority local cleanup projects. Steve Kopa, a proud Centralia business owner and Air Force veteran, recognized the poor impression trash and garbage leaves on visitors to Centralia, and rather than leaving the cleanup to someone else, he started picking up trash himself. The idea caught on, and today a dozen or so Clean Team volunteers gather every Saturday, weather permitting, giving their valuable time to create a cleaner community.

Thanks to their efforts, Exits 81 and 82 look a whole lot better than they once did — something only locals might notice, but that the entire world can appreciate.

I joined the Clean Team on a couple of Saturday outings this year, and got to know some of its members. Karen Repogle, a retired nurse, told me the cleanups are a way she can continue her service to the community. Longtime volunteer Joyce Hoerling told me that not only does she participate in the team’s organized cleanups, she picks up trash during her daily walks through downtown Centralia.

Centralia Port Commissioner Peter Lahmann jokingly told me he participates “in lieu of jail time.” But the truth should be clear to anyone. It takes dedication and commitment to spend a Saturday in 25-degree weather to wrench frozen trash from the ground.

The state Department of Transportation has been a terrific partner in this effort, by picking up the trash bags after volunteers fill them. City leadership also has recognized the importance of the Clean Team’s work and has helped make their work possible. This community effort shows what can be done when government works with the people, rather than giving them marching orders.

Indeed, government often is a poor steward at this most basic ground level. One major local concern is the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s maintenance of its Centralia-area property. I am concerned about the environmental impact of trash along the banks of the Skookumchuck River as waste is picked up and carried downstream during seasonal flooding.

Community cleanup really is a responsibility for all of us, as individuals. I believe very strongly in this principle. For years, I have taken to the streets to pick up discarded needles, plastic bags and other trash — these days, masks too.

That’s why I have introduced legislation to introduce the Centralia approach statewide. Senate Bill 5429 and its House companion, HB 1501, sponsored by Rep. Joel McEntire, R-Cathlamet, launches the “Pick it Up Washington” program.

This program requires the Department of Ecology to seek local volunteers and work with them as they develop local cleanup efforts like the one we see in Centralia. Using existing resources, the state would provide the necessary support for cleanups in public spaces. The rest is up to men and women of action with the desire and motivation to make our state a better place.

We can learn from the Clean Team’s good example and become “Pick it Up, Washington” volunteers.

Let’s not trash our future — let’s make it cleaner.


Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, represents the 19th Legislative District. To join the Centralia Clean Team, find them on Facebook or call 360-870-0706.