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East Oregonian | Dec. 4, 2012 12:50 a.m. | Updated: Dec. 4, 2012 8:50 a.m.

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CHRIS RIZER

Daily Astorian

Aniko Drlik-Muehleck is trying to design a blight removal plan that will last beyond her year-long stint as an AmeriCorps intern for the City of Pendleton.

She’s coordinating a volunteer cleanup for a week in the beginning of May in the neighborhood between Southwest Emigrant and Frazer Avenue, Fourth and Ninth Street as a pilot project.

Drlik-Muehleck, who started with the city in October, is fleshing out a plan developed by her AmeriCorps predecessor, Hilary Lovelace. After researching other communities that have had similar cleanups — including Chicago, Pittsburgh and Milwaukie, near Portland — Drlik-Muehleck found volunteer efforts worked better than mandated cleanups.

“I think that people tend to be resistant to change when it’s mandated to them,” she said. “When people have a stake in something, they’re more likely to stick with it.”

She wants to build a network of local organizations to donate funds and resources to remove debris from front yards and fix up and weatherize houses, starting with the neighborhood near city hall and eventually in other neighborhoods.

The Rural Assistance for Rural Environments participant is reaching out to community organizations like Round-Up Development Corporation for funding, and Community Action Plan of East Central Oregon and Energy Trust of Oregon for weatherization and energy efficiency resources.

This is the same kind of community network the Umatilla Basin Watershed Council uses for its Umatilla River cleanup. Former board member Betty Klepper in 1996 organized the first Umatilla Basin Watershed Council Umatilla River cleanup, and the project has continued with ease with the contacts she assembled, said executive director Greg Silbernagel.

UBWC has coordinated the cleanup with donations and resources from 13 local organizations and businesses, the Round-Up and Happy Canyon Association and Pendleton Rotary Club, Silbernagel said.

This May, 70 volunteers removed 620 pounds of debris from the river, and Parks and Recreation hauled the debris to Pendleton Sanitary Service, which disposed of the waste for free, Silbernagel said. Former UBWC intern Lisette Kopetski organized the May cleanup, and UBWC volunteer Josh Allen is planning the upcoming cleanups in May and August.

Allen will call on the community organizations for donations, and organize volunteer crews, Silbernagel said. He’ll ask the city to donate a dump truck and U.S. Bank, Safeway, Albertsons and Walmart to give food.

Drlik-Muehleck is designing a similar process her cleanup.

She hopes Pendleton Sanitary will provide donated or discounted services to dispose of debris, and is looking for a contractor to lead the volunteer crews. She plans to secure grant funding for a part-time employee to continue coordinating the program after her one-year stint is up, and to ask a community organization to host the program.

She’s organizing a community forum for mid-December to seek community feedback and organize a steering committee to plan the pilot project.

“Basically right now I want to get the word out and hear people’s input,” Drlik-Muehleck said. “I want to get a sense of what’s been done and what needs to be done, and then with that knowledge I can get a sense of how to partner with those organizations and enhance what they’re doing and further the city goal of improving the aesthetic of the town.” 

Contact Chris Rizer at crizer@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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