Living off the landfill: How wanted Portage Co. fugitive supplied his bunker

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RINGLE, Wis. (WSAW) -- For Jeremiah Button, who built a hidden bunker in Ringle and vanished two weeks before his Portage County jury trial in 2016, public access to the landfills at the Marathon County Solid Waste Department made it easy to survive for three and a half years before his arrest last Friday.

The Marathon County Sheriff's Office took NewsChannel 7 inside the bunker earlier this week, where the man accused of multiple sex crimes against children had electricity through a system of solar panels, a bike-powered generator, and three car batteries. He told deputies after his arrest that he had survived almost entirely off items found in the landfill a half mile away, including dozens of cans of food lining the bunker walls, a radio and multiple laptops and other electronics.

NewsChannel 7 traveled to the landfill today, where director Meleesa Johnson explained how Button would have found that possible. With 580 acres of land, three landfills and multiple public access trails running across the department's land, they aren't trying to keep the public away.

"Most of our site is wooded; we do have perimeter fencing," Johnson explained. "We don't want the public to stay away--we have lots of people out here enjoying and recreating on this parcel."

The perimeter fencing, with barbed wire at the top to catch drifting litter from the landfills, is primarily to keep vehicles out after hours, and doesn't surround the entire property. Security cameras only operate over the drop-off area, not the landfills.

"We don't want to ban the public," Johnson noted. "99.999999% of the people who visit here--hundreds of people a day--are welcome and are wonderful people. We want them here. One person over the course of forty years' existence of the Solid Waste Department unforunately had nefarious means."

Trails for public use include the Ice Age Trail that cuts through the property, the same trail that Button's bunker was found near, about 1,000 yards north. The Mountain Bay trail also goes through the property, and the department has its own bluebird nestbox trail as well.

Johnson says that a big part of why Button was able to find so many resources from the landfill is connected to a societal inclination to throw things away too quickly.

"We are kind of a throw-away society," she said. "We just respond to what society is doing...There's a lot of things that are still good that end up in the garbage, and we have no other choice but to compact it and bury it."

According to Johnson, the department sees between 800 and 1200 tons of trash daily, particularly during the summer.

"Every day those compactors run all day long, pushing garbage, compacting it, and then covering it up with soils--making sure we do the right thing to protect human health and the environment."

For the full story of Jeremiah Button's bunker, click here.