WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Our Opinion: Community effort can clear trash from Wilson's roadsides

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City of Wilson and Wilson County residents agree — it’s time to take out the trash.

Roadside litter generated two letters to the editor last week, and each letter prompted dozens of comments on our website and Facebook page bemoaning the bottles, cans, discarded furniture and trash bags often spotted along shoulders in the city and county.

“Fellow citizens, if we don’t take more pride in where we live and make more mindful choices, no one is going to want to visit or live in Wilson and Wilson County,” Deborah Webb of Wilson wrote in her Feb. 27 letter.

Webb’s missive prompted a Saturday letter from Katherine Krabill, who wrote that she and her husband spent 90 minutes picking up trash on the shoulder of N.C. 58 between Packhouse Road and Scotch Highlands in rural Wilson County.

We can all agree Wilson County has a problem with littering and illegal dumping. Now it’s time to come together as a community and work out some solutions.

MONITORING AND ENFORCEMENT

As Krabill noted in her letter, roadside trash isn’t at the top of police and sheriff’s deputies’ priority list. That’s understandable, as violent crime and property crime take precedence. But surely there’s a role for law enforcement to play.

Officers who witness a littering or dumping violation or can develop probable cause to charge someone — say, through discarded mail found in illegally dumped garbage bags identifying those responsible for the refuse — can write citations and issue fines. Could those efforts be stepped up?

Agencies often add reserve officers to their roster. Reserve officers are typically retired, semi-retired or working full-time in non-law-enforcement careers, and their affiliation with the agency keeps their state certification active. In exchange, officers volunteer their time. Perhaps reserve officers for the Wilson Police Department and Wilson County Sheriff’s Office could be tasked with illegal dumping enforcement and serve as a force multiplier.

Though care must be taken to document and preserve evidence, we wonder whether an auxiliary group, such as a neighborhood watch, could help locate names and addresses in roadside trash bags and refer cases to designated police and sheriff’s office liaisons for enforcement.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE BODIES

City residents may wish to seek assistance from the Wilson Appearance Commission, an all-volunteer panel whose members are appointed by the Wilson City Council.

The commission “provides leadership and guidance on programs that improve the city’s appearance” and “promotes beautification initiatives,” according to the city of Wilson website. Reducing litter and illegal dumping would go a long way toward beautifying our city and improving its appearance.

There are three current vacancies on the 10-member commission, and we’d urge those with a concern for this issue to consider applying for an appointment on the city’s website, WilsonNC.org. The Wilson Appearance Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Thursday, March 14.

Concerned citizens could form a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, a national network of community improvement groups that often organize roadside cleanups. Rocky Mount has a Keep America Beautiful of Nash and Edgecombe Counties chapter.

There’s also the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program. Churches, civic groups, nonprofits and businesses commit at least four years to a 2-mile stretch of road and organize periodic litter cleanups. Groups can identify a location and apply on the NCDOT website or by mail. After approval, a sign is placed along adopted roads identifying the volunteer caretakers.

EDUCATION AND MARKETING

Eliminating the existing litter is half the battle. The other half is reducing the amount of new litter by making the public aware of the scope of this problem and urging our neighbors to be part of the solution.

Efforts could include better publicizing Wilson County’s solid waste convenience centers, giving away small trash bags that motorists can keep in their cars to hold waste items, sponsoring school poster contests or even launching a full-fledged marketing campaign devoted to wiping out litter.

The Wilson Times supports efforts to foster civic pride and beautify our community by reducing illegal dumping and roadside litter. If county and city residents band together to make a difference, we’ll be sure to highlight those efforts in our pages.

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