Orem embraces new tactics as ‘Phantom Dumper’ remains scourge of city’s water system

OREM, Utah - Orem is resorting to some unusual tactics in their search for a "Phantom Dumper" causing headaches for water reclamation crews and costing the city thousands of dollars each week.

T-shirts with a Grim Reaper-like figure putting a hose down a manhole accompanies the words "Phantom Dumper" with a subhead reading: "seeping while you're sleeping" in the city's latest bid to raise awareness for the issue.

Early in November the city offered $2,500 as a reward for information leading them to whomever is making regular night-time dumps of a natural, fibrous substance that clogs up the system. That substance could be from paper, clothing, cardboard or something similar.

It has been happening weekly for about five months, and  each clean out costs the city about $3,300 in man-hours and takes crews away from regular maintenance work.

"It's very time-consuming for us, very time-consuming for us," said Lawrence Burton, a water reclamation manager for Orem. "And the work that we can't do because we are tied up doing that, it's a problem."

Burton said the gunk flows through one of the city’s 6,000 manholes. While they have “samplers” on several main pipes, they still have not been able to catch a sample and narrow down the source.

Assistant City Manager Steven Downs said things have gotten worse lately. He handed T-shirts out to city employees and encouraged anyone to wear one if they are willing to help.

"It became much more regular over the last month," he said of the "Phantom Dumper's" activities.

Downs said the T-shirts are a way to get more people involved and on the lookout.

"We're not trying to get all 90,000 residents in 'Phantom Dumper' T-shirts, but we do want enough to put this logo out," he said.

The city's website includes a way to report the "Phantom Dumper." City leaders say they believe the person or people responsible are making the dumps innocently, and they just want to speak to them about proper ways to dispose of the material.

“I do believe whoever is doing it does not realize he is doing it, and I believe it might be a business, not a single person,” Burton said.