Litter is getting out of hand in the county, running neck-and-neck with road repair needs.
“If you’ll look at our numbers that we have turned in, you will see a definite increase within the past two, three years of the numbers of what we’ve worked against and what we’re being hit with,” Assistant Fire Marshal Duana “DJ” Couch said.
Couch is also the county’s environmental investigator. She’s currently working 37 cases of illegal dumping, just in this month alone. To help get a grip on the problem, Harrison County Fire Marshal Thomas Mock submitted one last request for the County Commissioners Court’s consideration, Tuesday, asking the court to add a part-time litter control position before the court wraps up its budget season for the new fiscal year.
The need for a part-time litter abatement employee was first brought up in July by Pct. 3 County Commissioner Jay Ebarb when the court decided to terminate a Regional Solid Waste Grant Program contract that the county had with East Texas Council of Governments to fund a part-time litter abatement employee. The contract was terminated due to the resignation of the employee.
“We had the grant. We really didn’t realize how much of an impact that position helped us until we lost it,” Mock said Tuesday.
Mock said there are many litter-riddled places that need to be addressed, but he’s had to put them on the backburner for the past two months to focus on school inspections.
“That takes up a considerable amount of time this time of year, getting those done,” he said of school inspections.
The part-time litter control position “was just an invaluable part of our office to help stay ahead of the litter abatement across the county,” Mock said.
Responding to a question from County Judge Chad Sims, Mock said the duties of the former part-time employee consisted of picking up litter as well as cracking down on illegal dumping.
“It was a little of both because sometimes we have a lot of mattresses, couches ... large items that are dumped, but you can’t identify who they belong to,” said Mock.
Mock said while basic trash is easy to identify through bulks of mail, the illegal dumping of large items such as tires and furniture, for instance, can be hard to trace.
“Those items (such as) tires, like right now, I know I can identify about three locations (with tires). You gotta get ‘em cleaned up because if you don’t, it just opens the door for more people to see it and say: ‘Oh, this is a good spot to dump them,’” said Mock.
Ebarb suggested if the county wants to be serious about curbing the litter problem, they must try to investigate every site they can in hopes of finding a clue to the culprit.
“We have to go to every possible one that we can get to in hopes that we can find a piece of bulk mail with an address or name or something on it so we can then put some teeth in,” Ebarb said.
“If we’re just going out picking it up, we’re not making any progress,” the commissioner said, “but if we can go out and investigate and literally put some ownership to these areas that we’ve got problems in, I think it would be (progress).”
Ebarb said the problem is not secluded to one area but all over the county. He said hopefully even enforcing fines would solve the problem.
“I hate to use the word ticket or fine or catch or whatever, but until the people in the community know that we’re serious about (it)... and get some tickets to some people where they’ll have to go out and clean up the mess that they created — plus what was already there when they threw theirs —then hopefully the goal is to (control it).”
Mock said the fire marshal’s office is successful in identifying the responsible party about 40 to 50 percent of the time.
However, “the hardest thing is those large bulk items that are dumped,” he said.
Pct. 1 County Commissioner William Hatfield said he understands sometimes a bag of trash may blow over, but some of the litter on the roads seems intentional. Hatfield said Couch, the county’s environmental investigator, does her job issuing fines, but he’d also like to see the justices of the peace enforce those fines.
“To my understanding, the JP’s offices are really soft-handed on enforcing it,” said Hatfield. “I’ll echo what Commissioner Ebarb says: We need to get some teeth into this where people just don’t want to take a chance on taking that old TV and throwing it out on the side of the road.”
Pct. 3 County Commissioner Phillip Mauldin concurred.
“I get as many calls about trash and just regular litter as I do the roads,” said Mauldin.
Mauldin said he thinks it’s a shame that they even have to call on the coordination of various county departments such as the sheriff’s inmate labor program, county probation department and even Willoughby Juvenile Detention Center for assistance because the problem is so massive.
“We need some kind of campaign to get everybody’s attention,” Mauldin suggested.
Judge Sims noted that the City of Marshall has an anti-litter education campaign. The campaign, announced in April, and is promoted by the city is an effort to get citizens to “save your cash, pick up your trash” by tackling the litter problem in Marshall. Sims suggested that the county engage in the campaign, too.
“I sure would like to see all parts of the county join in on that as well,” said Sims.
Couch said the fire marshal’s office definitely could use the help in the midst of juggling inspections, emergency management duties and fighting fires.
“We’re rolling, but we need the help,” she said.