Homeless camp uprooted in North Lewiston, Nov. 14, 2017, Lewiston Tribune

Port of Lewiston crews dismantle sheltered area where six to eight transients lived

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

An excavator crawled up a North Lewiston hillside Monday morning, uprooting entire trees in a single pass as it removed vegetation that had provided cover for a homeless camp.

Police accompanied the crew to the Port of Lewiston site, but that safety precaution proved to be unnecessary because no one was there and no confrontation occurred, said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld. The crew arrived at about 8:30 a.m. and was finished within roughly one hour.

Port officials had tolerated the makeshift living arrangement for more than four months and dismantled it as a last resort that followed multiple complaints from all port tenants near the camp, Doeringsfeld said.

Employees of nearby businesses were reporting finding transients and having to ask them to leave. Also, thefts had risen, forcing companies to take extra precautions to secure all their materials and equipment, Doeringsfeld said.

In the most extreme incident reported to the port, an employee of a business was threatened with a screwdriver after he encountered a man on the premises, Doeringsfeld said.

The estimated six to eight people in the camp faced hazards, too, such as an infestation of mice and the possibility of wildfire, like a blaze that came within about 100 yards in July, Doeringsfeld said.

The port tried to give those at the camp information about what it was going to do so they could find another place to live before Monday, Doeringsfeld said.

“People are having to live in draws,” he said. “It’s a sad state of affairs.”

He previously went to the camp that’s immediately northeast of Pacific Steel on Oct. 30 with law enforcement to talk with the residents, but found it deserted.

The port posted signs explaining the plan and then returned a week later to remove possessions, Doeringsfeld said.

“I don’t believe there was anybody staying up there at that time.”

Three tents were in such disrepair that they couldn’t be salvaged, but a fourth was taken to the port office along with some other items and can be claimed by their owners, Doeringsfeld said.

“They had leveled out four little pads where they had set up tents.”

The sleeping quarters were only about 50 feet away from a street, but a steep incline helped conceal it and discourage visitors, Doeringsfeld said.

“When you stood at the road, you couldn’t see anything.”

The port has a little work left to do on the land. In upcoming weeks, crews will replant the bare earth left in the draw with low-growing plants that will prevent erosion without creating camouflage for new squatters.

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.