By Clint Parker
North Buncombe – You’re driving down the road and, all of a sudden, you come upon a large area of debris scattered over the roadside. Trash! Someone has once again marred the beauty of the highways by either carelessly or purposefully dispersing their waste on the roadways.
Two area residents have started to make a difference in the area by trying to clean the roadways in and around the Town of Weaverville. The dynamic duo of neighbors Ginger McKee and Will Isaacs have commenced working to clean up the unsightly waste from the sides of the road.
Isaacs said he started noticing just how bad the littering problem was as he rode his bike. “I live out Reems Creek, and I bike ride out Reems Creek, Ox Creek and all that stuff…When you’re going 14-15 miles per hour, you see a lot more litter than you do when you’re going 50 – 60 miles per hour. There’s a lot out there…It’s a mess out there and there’s no help. DOT (Department of Transportation) will not do these rural roads.”
According to the executive summary of the 2018 North Carolina Interagency Report provided to the Tribune by Kimberly Wheeless, Program Outreach Coordinator NC Department Of Transportation’s Litter Management Department, more than $18 million was spent on cleaning the state’s roadsides.
“During 2018 NCDOT spent $18,170,700 removing litter on state routes” to care for approximately 80,000 road miles states the report. While the “…costs for NCDOT employees, spending on Minimum Custody Road Squads and Adopt-A-Highway costs fell from 2017, NCDOT Contract Forces cost increased.” Also, “Funding for Minimum Highway Work Crews and Medium Custody Road Squads was cut off in Fiscal Year 2018. “
However, the state’s efforts are having little impact, as are McKee and Isaacs. “I’ll go out and pick at the end of Reems Creek…and the next day people will have thrown stuff out…it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” said Isaacs. He relates the tale of one person who spits tobacco juice into a bottle along with multiple cigarette butts and then tosses it out on the side of the road. “I’ve picked up at least 20 of them. Last year alone the pair have picked up 186 bags of garbage.
McKee credits Isaacs with initiating the effort to clean up after trashy people. Asked if Isaacs asked her to come help pick up some trash, Ginger said with a laugh, “He said, ‘be there!’”
The two sprang into action in August of last year when they started at the Ingles at New Stock Road and picked up litter from there to Main Street in Weaverville. In the approximate two miles, the pair picked up 22 bags of garbage. They picked the area again in December and got 19 bags. These are the sizable 13-gallon trash bags. They picked trash at several other locations as well, but the problem is that the task is overwhelming.
What’s been done on the state level?
“Per the Appropriations Act of 2017 (SB 257) the Department of Transportation is no longer required to provide funding for Department of Public Safety Litter Crews and Road Squads. NCDOT covers much of roadside litter removal through Contract Litter Management. Many contracts are mowing/litter combined,” said the report.
The report also states that “the Adopt-A-Highway program continued to make a difference as the volunteers reported picking up 950,580 pounds of litter during 2018. There were 304,560 pounds of litter recovered under the Sponsor-A-Highway program and NCDOT Forces picked up 657,255 pounds.” Other volunteers reported, “picking up 28,200 pounds in 2018.”
The report says statewide litter programs are supported by “…NCDOT, its Litter Management Programs, DPS, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. NCDOT promoted litter prevention by supplying information through North Carolina Welcome Centers, health fairs, local community meetings, the State Fair, as well as providing litter prevention promotional items too numerous local organizations and schools.”
What about locally?
McKee and Isaacs question why towns can’t provide the service for the main roads coming into the city? Isaacs said the Town of Weaverville has no plans to clean the sides of the road, even though the area is in the town’s limits.
The Tribune contacted the Weaverville Town Manager Selena Coffey about what attempts the town is taking to clean roadside trash.
“The Public Works staff tries to find time during the winter and early spring months to gather litter along the main roadways into town, such as Weaver Boulevard, Main Street, and Merrimon Avenue, but unfortunately, they are not always able to get to all town streets due to workloads,” Coffey told the Tribune. “As to labor or money, when they have time they may use a five-person crew for a day for a litter pickup along a section of main thoroughfares, totaling approximately 40 hours per day. In addition, when they mow or use string trimmers during the summer months along road shoulders, they pick up litter while they are working to keep from ripping and spreading it.”
Coffey acknowledged the efforts of McKee and Isaacs in her statement to the Tribune. “Some of our citizens and neighbors have helped by picking up litter along Merrimon Avenue from West Funeral Home to Pizza Hut, and last year collected a total of 41 bags of litter and debris during two pickup days in August and December. The Rotary Club has held a trash pick-up day on Saturday, March 16, on Weaver Boulevard. We are supplying orange trash bags and then picking up their collected trash on Saturday afternoon.”
The town also holds Spring Clean up as does Woodfin. “In the February e-Focus newsletter, we included an article about spring cleaning around town and our offer to provide orange trash bags to citizens who wanted to spend some time cleaning their streets. We haven’t yet had a significant response to this, so whatever you publish could help us.”
Woodfin Town Administrator Jason Young directed the Tribune’s inquiries about the issue to Woodfin Public Works Director Johnny Brooks. Brooks said, “Yeah, we have several areas in Woodfin where we have trouble with littering. Roads like Gorman Bridge Road, Brookdale Ave, Lookout Road, and Goodman Road seem to be the main concern for us. Furniture is the most popular items dumped on these roads.” Brooks estimates the town spends about $3,000 to $5,000 annually on the clean-ups.
Residents of the area better not look to the county for help according to Roger Presley Buncombe County’s only Environmental Control person. “We really don’t address roadside litter,” Presley told the Tribune. “Basically it’s left up to the community to do roadside pick-ups. DOT provides the orange bags, and the community will clean it up, leave the orange bags and the DOT will come back and pick it up.” He added, “Buncombe County don’t have the resources.”
What about enforcement of litter laws?
The possibility of getting caught littering is almost non-existent, and the chance of a fine or conviction is even lower according to the DOT’s report. The report relates that there were 3,028 charges of littering in the state last year. Of those only 948 convictions were obtained.
“As in previous years, the Conference of Chief District Court Judges continued to provide an alternative to first-time offenders charged with littering of less than 15 pounds. On execution of written waiver of appearance and trial and plea of guilty/responsible, an offender may have the court appearance waived. The fine for intentional littering is $250 plus costs and $50 plus costs for unintentional littering.”