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Green & clean

GATESVILLE –Bundy Lane and Bryan Buck are fed up. They are growing tired of seeing trash dumped along local roads and both men are taking action to make Gates County beautiful and litter-free. 

Lane, a local farmer, sent a crew of his men out on NC 37 recently to pick up trash. He didn’t have to make that commitment, but he was angered that his county looked like a trash dump.

“I sent people down there to clean it up because I’m tired of looking at it,” said Lane, addressing the Gates County Board of Commissioners during the public comments portion of their regularly scheduled meeting on March 7.

“I don’t know if the county can impose a higher fine for littering,” Lane continued. “I suggest ya’ll look into that. We need to instill a sense of pride in our county. I feel that needs to start in our school system. We need to instill that sense of pride in them.”

Lane shared a story about a trip he took last summer to Switzerland, accompanying his daughter who is a world-class equestrian sport competitor.

“There is no trash on the roads over there,” he noted. “I asked why and was told they have huge fines for littering. They have so much pride over there for the ways things look that if you get into a vehicle accident you have 30 days to make repairs on your car or truck. If you don’t you lose your driver’s license. You don’t see dented-up cars and trucks on their roads. They take pride in how their communities look.

“Our trash problem is terrible here in Gates County,” Lane continued. “I remember the day when my grandmother made me pick up trash along NC 37 all the way to US 13 every single summer. It taught me to never litter. We need to get more people involved in making our communities, our roads look better or pass a local law to fine people $10,000 for littering.”

Buck, a local businessman, said he wanted to heighten awareness to the littering issue.

“I’m not going to stop here at the local level; I’m taking this to the state level,” Buck said. “I’m sick of looking at all this trash on our roads.

“I think we’re all on the same team; I think there’s only a very small percentage of people that litter,” he added. “What we’ve got to figure out is where do we go from here. What do we do to stop it?”

Buck pointed out that, by law, littering in the state of North Carolina is a Class III misdemeanor for amounts not exceeding 15 pounds and not for commercial gain. The fine is between $250 and $1,000 plus 8-to-24 hours of community service. Fines for those convicted of illegally dumping over 15 pounds, but not exceeding 500 pounds and not for commercial gain range from $500 to $2,000 with community service time between 16 and 50 hours.

“We already have pretty tough laws on the books, but how many of you have ever heard of anyone being fined for littering in our state,” asked Lane, motioning for those in the audience to raise their hand. “I’m 52 years-old and I’ve never heard of anyone being fined for littering.”

Buck said an anti-littering campaign needs to start at the local level.

“It’s got to start, like Bundy said, with our kids….making them have pride in where they live; then it’s got to go to fining those who do litter,” Buck stressed.

He added there is a letter drafted by members of the Hall Ruritan Club to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper asking him to keep money in the state budget that addresses anti-littering campaigns. He asked the commissioners to also write the governor and keep the pressure on to ensure these types of programs remain in place.

“Let’s start right here in Gates County; let’s make our priority to address this out-of-control trash issue,” Buck concluded.

Earlier in the meeting, Robert Jordan, Interim Gates County Sheriff, was joined at the podium by James Harrison, a NC DOT official with Division One who oversees the Adopt-A-Highway Program for the 14 counties in the northeastern part of the state.

Jordan said his office had received a report a few months ago about trash along NC 37 near US 13.

“The majority of the trash there was coming from Dollar General,” Jordan said, passing photos of the litter along the roadside. “There was trash everywhere.”

Jordan said he contacted the corporate office of Dollar General to advise them of the situation and how bad that trash made Gates County appear to its residents and visitors.

“I let them know that if the trash wasn’t cleaned up in a certain amount of time, we would start fining them,” Jordan noted. “Two days later the trash was cleaned up.”

Jordan said he drove into other areas of the county and found there is a serious problem with litter.

“I contacted DOT; letters have been written to our (state) legislators and to the governor to try and get this situation under control,” Jordan remarked. “I also found out that there are a few organizations here in county that still participate in the Adopt-A-Highway Program. I say this to bring more awareness to you (the commissioners) that our roads look bad (with litter).”

He added the only way, other than being caught in the act, to identify those dumping litter illegally is for a law enforcement officer to tear open a bag of trash and look for a name/address on a piece of discarded mail. In those cases, individuals have been issued citations. Additionally, Jordan stressed that if an individual is taking trash to one of the county’s waste collection sites and that facility is closed, it’s illegal to leave the trash there outside the fence.

Jordan encouraged the commissioners to meet with the churches and civic organizations within their districts to bring awareness to the littering problems and to possibly sign-up and join the Adopt-A-Highway Program.

Harrison noted there are only eight current Adopt-A-Highway Programs still active in Gates County. Each, he said, is responsible for picking up trash along a pre-determined two-mile section of road.

“This a volunteer service provided by organizations here in your county,” Harrison remarked. “If a group wants to sign-up and adopt a highway, all they have to do is go to our website (www.ncdot.gov), follow the link to the Litter Management Program and fill out an application and I’ll get in contact with them. They are asked to pick up trash four times a year. We supply the trash bags and we pick up those bags.”

Roadside signs are erected, complete with the name of the organization providing the volunteer work.

Harrison said NCDOT has a contract with a private business to pick up litter along the US 158 route through Gates County, but due to budget constraints they have to rely on volunteers to collect trash on the secondary roads.

Commissioner Henry Jordan said he recalled “No Littering” signs (with wording referencing the dollar amount for those caught dumping trash) once dotting the county’s roads. Harrison said those signs are typically placed in areas where trash is prevalent on a consistent basis.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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