Friday, December 9, 2022

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Don’t litter on way to landfill; commissioners allocate funds to catch litterbugs in the act

The county’s elected leaders have decided not to impose any new ordinances to address the buildup of garbage along some area roads. They have nevertheless agreed to use every means already at their disposal to enforce the state’s littering laws – particularly along roads that lead to Alamance County’s landfill.

On Monday, the board of commissioners unanimously voted to set $10,000 aside for these existing anti-littering efforts in the hope that the ramped-up enforcement will discourage people from deliberately or inadvertently spewing trash from their vehicles on their way to the landfill.

The commissioners ultimately approved this decision based on a report from assistant county attorney Ragan Oakley about the county’s various options for litter enforcement.

Assistant county attorney Ragan Oakley

In her report, which she presented at the board’s latest regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, Oakley said that the commissioners could conceivably enact a new civil or criminal ordinance to crack down on littering. She argued, however, that there’s really no need for them to clutter up the county’s code of ordinances with any of these additional rules.

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“What legal would recommend the county to do is to continue to enforce the existing laws,” she insisted. “We believe this would be the best option because there are already extensive laws and regulations related to the subject, and it’s questionable whether another law or local ordinance would work to fix the problem.”

Oakley added that state law already allows the office of Alamance County’s sheriff to issue charges for littering that range from simple infractions to felonies. She also observed that the sheriff’s office can also impose monetary penalties on litterbugs from $250 to $2,000.

The assistant county attorney shared this information with the commissioners in response to persistent appeals from area resident James Walker.

James Walker

Walker had originally approached the county’s governing board in 2019 to complain about improperly secured truckloads of trash that he said were spilling out along roadways that lead to Alamance County’s landfill near Saxapahaw. In response, the landfill’s administrators launched a “Tarp it!” campaign in order to encourage residents to adequately cover the truckloads of garbage they haul to the facility. In the meantime, the sheriff’s office has conducted a modicum of anti-littering enforcement and detailed inmates from the local jail to pick up trash along N.C. 54 and other rural highways.

These efforts have nevertheless failed to satisfy Walker, who has continued to complain about roadside garbage to the commissioners – mostly recently during a designated public comment period that preceded Monday’s decision.

“We need to get an ordinance here in Alamance County,” Walker exhorted the county’s governing board. “I came down 54 this week. There were boxes all the way down 54, and mattresses that fell off a truck.”

The commissioners were initially torn about how best to address the problem which Walker had brought to their attention.

“I’m kind of struggling with this thing because we do need to do something,” Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, said after the assistant county attorney’s report.

“I just don’t want our commissioners to keep putting on to another meeting,” agreed county commissioner Pam Thompson. “But I think it’s a real shame that we’re having to rewrite something because it isn’t doing what it was meant to do.”

“My thoughts are generally that we don’t need additional regulation,” added commissioner Craig Turner, “because we already have laws on the books that cover it.”

The county’s administrators also briefed the commissioners about the shortcoming of the county’s existing efforts against littering.

According to Alamance County’s manager Heidi York, the county has yet to hear back from the state regarding anti-littering signs that it has requested based on input from Walker.

Meanwhile, sheriff Terry Johnson acknowledged the limited success of his own agency’s previous enforcement efforts.

“If we’re going to do it,” he added, “we need to take a solid stance on it, and make believers of some of these people.”

In order to increase the sheriff’s wherewithal to curb littering, Turner proposed that the commissioners allocate $10,000 for litter enforcement. The sheriff agreed to use these funds to hire retired deputies to patrol rural roads for litterbugs or pay his existing deputies overtime to perform the same function.

Cliff Parker, the sheriff’s chief deputy, noted that these enforcement efforts will only have an effect on litterbugs who are caught in the act. The sheriff added, however, that in the past he has personally gone after other violators based on identifying information that he has found in the contents of jettisoned garbage.

In the end, even Walker seemed optimistic about the potential for this heightened enforcement to obtain the results he has sought.

“Signs [by themselves] aren’t going to do no good,” he insisted. “You need to fine people where it’s going to hit in their pocket books and then word of mouth is going to spread it like wildfire.”

On Tuesday, the office of Alamance County’s sheriff formally announced that it would begin the stepped-up enforcement of unsecured truckloads on Saturday. The sheriff’s office added that this increased scrutiny will focus on the so-called landfill corridor – an area that includes Austin Quarter Road, Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Swepsonville-Saxapahaw Road, and Mineral Springs Road, as well as portions of N.C. 54, N.C. 119, and N.C. 87.

“Th[is] enforcement action is designed to enhance safety by preventing items from falling or flying out of a truck and/or trailer and reduce litter on county highways,” the sheriff’s office added in a news release Tuesday. “An untarped load could result in a citation of having an unsecured load and/or littering. So, ‘Tarp It! It’s The Law!’”

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