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The First Leagal Garbage Dump On South Hill

by Carl Vest

Getting rid of garbage is a problem that’s common to all societies.  South Hill has not been an exception.  Bury it, burn it, or dump it in some river can all be considered as possible solutions.  Like in most rural areas, however, the first settlers on the Hill didn’t really see this as a problem.  There was plenty of open space, burning could be done easily, and live stock could consume leftovers.  But as the population increased and the size of farms and open spaces decreased, the disposal of waste did become an issue.

It can’t be exactly pinpointed when formalized rubbish collection started on the Hill.  We do know that such services were being provided by mid twentieth century.  In 1953 a study by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health department, for example, listed ten companies licensed to haul garbage in Pierce County.  South Hill was being serviced by the Pierce County Refuse Company (owned by Harold E. LeMay).  The collected waste was being hauled to the Tacoma City Dump.
Whereas by the early 1950s the trash on South Hill was being both collected and properly buried in a licensed land fill, it was also recognized that these practices could not be continued.  The travel distances involved and the cost of transporting an ever growing amount of garbage called for a waste disposal site closer to the sources of pickup.  It was this thinking that motivated the County Commissioners in July 1953 to purchase about 20 acres of real estate on South Hill for the purpose of establishing a local landfill site.  It was located in Section 20 of Township 19, identified today as the northeast corner at the intersection of Woodland Avenue and 160th Street.  This land was in the so-called Starvation Valley area of South Hill and so the dump was officially named, the Starvation Valley Garbage Dump.

This waste disposal site was originally a shallow-fill design.  There were no provisions for burning.  But by the 1960s local residents noticed deep ditches being dug and witnessed the start of incineration.  This caused a petition to be initiated in 1966 aimed at stopping any expansion.  As a result County officials assured the residents that the landfill site would be used for only a few more years and that a new location further away from residential growth would be developed.  In 1968 the County was forced by citizen complaints to again take action, this time to prevent the site from also being used as a shooting range. 

The Starvation Valley Garbage Dump was being gradually closed by the end of the 1960s.  Refuse was being shifted to a site at Thun Field, to an old gravel pit located just off the south end of the airport runway.  Records show that this transfer actually started as early as 1967.

The County paid $175 for the land that would be the Starvation Valley Garbage Dump.  It was purchased from the West Tacoma Newsprint Company.  Another $46,926 was spent developing it for use.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.