Across North County and into Woodland reports or calls regarding abandoned vehicles have risen in recent years.
In unincorporated Clark County, reports of such vehicles went up from 978 in 2014 to a peak of 2,024 in 2017. Last year calls were only slightly lower at 1,979, and by Jan. 24 this year 121 calls had already come in, according to Clark County Sheriff’s Office statistics.
Battle Ground, Ridgefield and Woodland also had significant increases in reports on suspected abandoned vehicles compared to a few years back. La Center has also seen an increase, but not as dramatic.
The bigger numbers don’t necessarily mean every vehicle called in is left to rust. Ridgefield’s police department clerk noted in an email that in some cases it could just be a car parked by a neighbor down the street that has been there for a few days.
Clark County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Alex Schoening noted a similar phenomenon was present in the sheriff’s office enforcement. The 20-plus-year veteran of the sheriff’s office said outside of the statistics he’s personally seen an increase in both calls for abandoned cars as well as RVs.
As to why reports would be going up, Schoening said part of the problem was likely obvious to anyone who has lived in Clark County for a while — the “explosion” in population.
Schoening described the response process. When an abandoned vehicle call comes in it is “triaged” — prioritized in order of importance. Generally, calls for in-progress crimes or ones involving immediate danger would take precedence over a car on the side of the road.
In the past few months Shoening’s department has been using the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Patrol to help with abandoned vehicle reports, a segment of the force consisting of “community-minded volunteers,” he said. With increases to emergency calls outpacing any rise in staffing levels, reliance on the auxiliary patrol has helped fill the gap for low-priority cases.
Schoening explained that generally, a member of the patrol would “tag” a vehicle involved in the call, and after the legally-defined timeframe, the vehicle would then be towed. Things like expired registration, flattened tires or other mechanical problems can lead to a determination that a vehicle is abandoned.
The sheriff’s office has a rotating list of companies that tow abandoned vehicles. If a vehicle is truly abandoned it could end up at an auction if a set amount of days has elapsed following notification of the owner.
If a vehicle that was towed was claimed, it is up to the owner to pay impound and storage fees to the company.
“Most of the time, thankfully, the vehicles have been moved,” Schoening said, as it has often ended up a case of someone in the neighborhood having a vehicle parked for several days, not a true abandonment.
Outside of cars sticking around for days, more RVs are also being abandoned.
“We’re dealing with them on a daily basis,” Schoening remarked. He reasoned that in prior years disposing of the vehicles after the end of their useful life was easier, but recently there has been “significant restrictions” placed on disposal, creating an increase in fees to do it properly.
Depending on the issues, the cost for RV disposal could be from $800 to $4,000, Schoening said. Asbestos tests, removal of sewage tanks and refrigerants can add up.
“The prior owners of these motorhomes, rather than incur the expense, are simply dumping them on the side of the road,” he said. If an owner can’t be tracked down that cost goes onto taxpayers.
It only takes a few multi-thousand-dollar disposals for the department to exhaust its hazardous materials disposal budget, Schoening explained.
“We try our best to get them when the money’s available,” he said. In some cases the tow companies involved would refuse to take such vehicles knowing of the cost it would be to get rid of them, he added.
Schoening said streamlining the disposal process could help with more efficient removal. Allocating more to that part of the budget could also help, funded by greater penalties for dumping vehicles.
“Just because of the hazardous materials involved, there is going to be an increased cost that needs to be borne,” Schoening said. “Obviously we don’t want to have the taxpayers bear that as much as possible.”