Commissioners give approval for undertaking to limit illegally dumped items
(May 31, 2019) Looking to curtail illegal dumping on county roads and recycling centers, the Worcester County Commissioners have approved a new anti-littering campaign that will focus on education first and then tougher enforcement.
Public Works Director John Tustin told the commissioners last Tuesday that a brainstorming session was held in early April between various county departments to tackle the continuing issue of illegal dumping.
“After a lengthy discussion, we’re looking at education, enforcement, and abatement or clean up,” he said.
Tustin suggested the effort should begin with a six-month anti-littering campaign that would involve press releases, flyers and public service announcements.
“We feel as though it’s important to get the knowledge out there to the citizens,” he said. “Just to get the word out we are on an anti-litter campaign.”
Ideally, Tustin said the litter eradication campaign would run concurrently with the development and institution of a litter abatement program to collect litter along roadways.
Suggestions to use inmates from either the Worcester County Jail or the Eastern Correctional Institute were stymied after officials from both facilities said manpower was lacking.
Another idea to develop a localized version of the Maryland State Highway’s previous “Adopt-A-Highway,” program was quickly abandoned due to liability issues comparable to those that originally led SHA to abandon the concept.
Hiring an outside contractor was deemed too costly, with Tustin reporting an initial inquiry with a contractor came back at a cost of more than $1,200 a day for roadside trash removal. Tustin said that would total about $126,000 a year at two days a week and more than $250,000 to pick up debris four days a week.
Turning to the enforcement side, Tustin said the Sheriff’s Office can issue a civil citation for up to $500 to any person whose name is found two or more times on items in bagged refuse.
“We’re actively pursuing pricing for video surveillance at [recycling centers] particularly in Whaleyville, Bishopville and at Wal-Mart,” he said.
Tustin said Information Technology Manager Brian Jones is currently compiling surveillance system pricing.
“We will be back to you with some sort of program pricing details in the near future,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder agreed the topic needed addressing.
“The trash is getting worse, not better,” he said.
Although espousing the importance of enforcement, Elder also suggested an educational campaign could include sending information home for parents with school children.
“If you educate those kids to the point they tell mommy and daddy, ‘you can’t throw that out the window,’” he said.
Tustin said the concept mirrors the approach taken to launch recycling programs in Worcester two decades ago.
Commissioner Chip Bertino, after concurring with Elder’s suggestion to incorporate the school system, inquired about liability or health issues stemming from inspecting trash bags to assign ownership.
Tustin said the bag searches are generally for trash found at recycling centers and not along roadsides.
“The roadside trash I would not encourage our guys to start picking through because of the environment,” he said.
Tustin is also consulting with Sussex County, which recently launched a similar anti-littering program.
Commission President Diana Purnell said while warm weather tourism spawns roadside trash during the summer, the question remains how to address offseason abuses principally from rental property owners in Ocean City and West Ocean City where heavy items are commonly left beside dumpsters.
Tustin again championed installing video cameras at recycling drop-off centers throughout the county.
“You’re not going to see 20-30 mattresses dumped along the side of road but you might see them dumped at the recycling center,” he said.
Contemplating potential penalties, County Attorney Maureen Howarth said the $500 fine referenced in the health code was higher than those typically issued for first time infractions of other regulations, such as loose canines.
“I’ve never seen them do $500 on the first shot,” she said. “We normally do $100 for a dog at large the first time.”
Short of assigning ownership to improperly discarded trash bags by finding names in the refuse, Tustin said the Sheriff’s Office or relevant enforcement agency would need to observe the individual toss the items.
Elder added that individual eyewitness testimony would also suffice.
Based on past experience with animal control, Howarth suggested citizens are typically reticent to provide evidence against fellow community members.
“Most of the time, people don’t want to get into that with their neighbor,” she said.
Following a motion from Elder, the commissioners voted unanimously to endorse a new public information effort to limit litter with video surveillance pricing for the recycling centers forthcoming.