A dispute over crowds at a BottleDrop center in North Portland has escalated.
With grocery stores not required to accept returnable cans and bottles until June, lines of impoverished people are bringing bags of empties to a facility run by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative at a Delta Park shopping center.
On April 27, the BottleDrop's landlord, TMT Development, fenced off a vacant lot where people were lining up to return cans, and sent armed security guards to prevent them from queuing in the parking lot and in front of nearby businesses. Since then, patrons have been lining up several hundred feet from the BottleDrop, along a public sidewalk.
TMT Development CEO Vanessa Sturgeon says the company needed to step in to prevent drug dealing and fights.
"We regret that it's come to this, but we've been left with no choice due to OBRC's inaction," Sturgeon says. "They are not being respectful of other businesses, and they are not taking physical distancing seriously."
Jules Bailey, chief stewardship officer for OBRC, says TMT's guards are acting aggressively.
"It may be that by making it harder for people to access their cash, the landlord is hoping they'll just go away," he says. "But their security guards are causing chaos, and it's unsafe."
The presence of armed guards and the fencing of the lot mark the latest battle lines in a dispute that began March 27, when TMT Development sent ORBC a legal notice that the BottleDrop had defaulted on the terms of its lease by allowing too many people to congregate. TMT hasn't yet taken further legal action toward an eviction.
Meanwhile, the OBRC has rallied local elected officials to its defense. A spokesman for Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek says she's concerned by TMT's actions.
"The presence of armed security guards is in itself intimidating," spokesman Danny Moran says, "and their directives on where to move significantly increased the challenges for people simply attempting to recycle bottles and cans, since they had to move back and forth through a crowded parking lot with their cans (some were in wheelchairs)."
Sturgeon says OBRC has also hired an armed security guard—but hasn't maintained a large enough security staff to keep its patrons orderly. Her company sent WW several statements from people supporting the decision to police the BottleDrop more closely, including from another tenant of the shopping center.
"The crowds at OBRC are out of control," says Dan Grogan, president of Fisherman's Marine and Outdoor, which has a sporting goods store at Delta Park. "I've seen fights and drug dealing in that line. If OBRC isn't going to manage this situation, we expect TMT to. All the tenants in the center have rights, not just OBRC."