DOBSON — It’s a real issue which reflects poorly on the community, so officials are declaring “war” on littering.
Eddie Harris, vice chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, led a summit meeting Wednesday morning on topics important to local residents. Joining Harris in the meeting were representatives of the county’s four municipalities, Mount Airy City Schools, various county officials and other concerned groups.
Harris opened the discussion by focusing on litter.
“This is a reflection of who we are as a community,” said Harris. “We need to begin a very flexible war on litter. Other counties are attacking this issue.”
Harris explained he wanted the effort to be collaborative, with all groups invested in the effort.
“This is a summit which involves everybody,” noted Harris. “We have a good cross-section of Surry County here.”
Harris explained his vision of an anti-littering campaign would be three-fold, involving educational, public relations and litter-removal aspects.
Much attention was directed toward litter clean-up efforts.
“We have a clean-up contract for all primary roads in the division beginning on June 1,” said N.C. Department of Transportation representative Jason Joyce.
Joyce explained contracts to clean up Interstates 77 and 74 already have begun. Under the additional contract, divided primary roadways such as U.S. 52 will be cleaned once per month. Other primary roads such as N.C. 89 will be cleaned quarterly. The contract will not include secondary roads.
Joyce, who recently took over the anti-litter portion of his division, said the move toward contracting the clean-up efforts is, in part, related to a lack of prison inmate labor to provide the clean-up services it once did.
“It used to be the Department of Corrections was able to handle this, but in about the past three years they haven’t been able to.”
Joyce said there are now less prisons, and decreases in manning have made it hard for the department to provide a guard to take prisoners out on the roads for clean-up operations.
He added with primary roads covered under the new contract, he will divert any help he does get from corrections to secondary roads.
Joyce said he believes people will start to see a difference once the new roadside clean-up operations begin.
Much discussion occured regarding the point of origin of roadside trash.
“A lot is coming from residential haulers,” said County Manager Chris Knopf.
County Code Enforcement Officer Doug Hall agreed.
“Eighty percent of it is industrial trash.”
Knopf said he believes much of the trash blows off from the trucks of companies which haul it to the landfill. The county is working on an answer to the problem.
Knopf said legislation is being drafted which would force haulers to be licensed by the county, a practice which is done in most other counties. The legislation would also allow the department of public works to issue citations for uncovered loads which are brought to the county landfill.
Another program Knopf said the county will look at reinstating is one in which the county compensates non-profit groups for bags of trash they pick up. The program was hugely successful years ago.
Dobson Town Manager Josh Smith said he believes a great amount of effort must go toward stiff enforcement of littering laws, and County Commissioner Larry Johnson suggested hiring part-time deputies to patrol the areas surrounding the landfill in order to issue citations.
Harris believes an educational aspect in the county’s schools is necessary, and Mount Airy Schools chief academic officer Dr. Kim Morrison said her system offers a program on which they can build.
Morrison said the city school district offers an after-school program in which about 60 students complete a service project.
“We could easily prioritize littering in that program,” remarked Morrison, adding the district would be happy to coordinate with Joyce to have him speak with students about littering.
Of course, not all trash comes from trash haulers. Michella Huff, Mount Airy’s grounds and maintenance supervisor, said much of the roadside trash in her city consists of fast food wrappers.
Chad Tidd, owner of the local Chick-Fil-A, said his organization would be willing to lead the way in an awareness campaign which would include putting stickers, signs and other materials at local businesses.
Harris noted a billboard company had offered advertising space for an anti-littering campaign which could result from the discussions and showed examples of anti-littering signs from Mountain Park’s campaign.
Harris said cleaning up Surry County, and keeping it clean is something residents should take personally. However, some just don’t get it.
The commissioner said he actively polices littering in the Mountain Park community, where an anti-littering campaign led by his brother has been successful.
He said there’s somebody who throws a grocery bag filled with trash by the river about once a week.
Harris has picked up the bag on multiple occasions, and it led to his own personal investigation.
“She smokes L & M menthol cigarettes,” noted Harris.
Harris said he went to the local store, and the clerk named the only local person who purchases L & M menthol cigarettes.
“I know exactly who it is. … She doesn’t know I know yet.”
As leaders left the government center, they agreed to go back to their respective organizations and discern what efforts those organizations would put toward an anti-littering campaign.
Harris said the group will likely meet again to present a plan for attacking the “war on litter.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.