IL - LITTER - ATE?

Ignorance of the law is certainly not an excuse for the litterbug who probably thought this was funny.

THE RIGHT WAY

Avoyelles Police Jury employees pick up at least 10 trailers of trash like this every week from residents who call the Parish Barn to request the parish take away old furniture, appliances and other items.

"I congratulate the residents who call us to pick this stuff up rather than throw it on our roadsides," Parish Civil Works Director Kevin Bordelon said.

THE WRONG WAY

Scenes likes this -- and many much worse -- "adorn" many roadsides in the parish. A parishwide sales tax that pays for collection and disposal of solid waste, and a free-of-charge Police Jury collection service for old furniture, appliances and other items not covered by the residential garbage collection contract, has not deterred some parish residents from making the effort to load up their trash and throw it in the bayous and along the roads.

‘Litter Court’ could address Avoyelles' illegal dumping problem

Visitors to Avoyelles Parish often remark on the friendliness of its people and the beauty of its outdoor recreation areas, landscape, bayous and hunting grounds.

However, that beauty is marred and the pleasant experience jarred by the appearance of litter haphazardly dumped in or along a bayou or roadside or in an otherwise scenic woodland.

A “litter court” to handle citations for illegal dumping is one program the parish is considering.

“Litter and illegal dumping has become a catastrophe in this parish,” Avoyelles Police Jury President Charles Jones said. “It is almost unmanageable.”

The Avoyelles Police Jury depends on the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and Avoyelles Sheriff’s Office to investigate major littering incidents. Those efforts, by most accounts, do little to deter litterbugs.

“The penalty under the current ordinance is only $50,” Jones said. “Next month we will be considering increasing the penalty to $5,000 and/or 30 days in jail.”

Some of the illegal dumping, such as mountains of tires thrown on roadsides or canals, are handled by parish employees. More extensive dump sites are cleaned by hiring a waste disposal contractor.

“When you drive through this parish, it looks like a dump yard,” Jones said. “That is unacceptable. We are better than that.”

CURRENT PARISH LAW

The Police Jury adopted the Avoyelles Parish Litter Reducton Ordinance in October 2002. It amended previous anti-litter laws on the jury’s books.

On paper, it is a strong law that gives the Police Jury the authority to create a “community service litter abatement program” and to collect a fee from those sentenced to work in that program.

That ordinance states that “all fines, either civil or criminal, collected pursuant to this article or any applicable state law shall be deposited in a beautification fund administered by the Police Jury for the purpose of encouraging, organizing and coordinating volunteer local anti-littering campaigns; to pay expenses for litter clean-up, collection, enforcement, prosecution and prevention; and to purchase and operate equipment in connection thereof.”

It also authorizes the Police Jury to establish a litter control office to enforce the litter law.

Under that ordinance, constables are empowered to investigate complaints and issue summons/subpoenas for violation of the parish ordinance and justices of the peace are given jurisdiction to hear litter violation cases.

“We may have to enlist our constables and justices of the peace to help us in this matter,” Jones said. “They know their areas better than others do.

“We may have to look at several approaches to resolving this problem,” Jones added.

A “litter court” program in St. Tammany and Grant parishes has been successful in battling the ‘bugs.

ST. TAMMANY MODEL

St. Tammany Constable Rick Moore has won a state and national award for the parishwide litter court he helped establish and operate in that parish. That program has been chosen as a model for the EPA and DEQ’s litter abatement efforts.

Moore was also named the 2017 Constable of the Year at the Justices of the Peace/Constables Convention in Marksville earlier this year.

“Avoyelles Parish and Marksville are great places to visit,” Moore said. “I always love going there.”

He said the parish “has a great system in place for garbage and trash with the parishwide collection paid by a sales tax and the parish sending a truck to the house to pick up mattresses and other trash, free of charge.”

With that service available, he said, it is perplexing that anyone would choose to dump their trash in the woods and bayous of the northernmost outpost of French Louisiana.

Moore said St. Tammany’s “Litter Court” has had an obvious and significant impact on litter in the parish.

It also contributes an average of $20,000 a year to the St. Tam Parish Council and collects enough in court costs to pay for the court’s operations.

“We get calls every day about littering,” he said.

Those include dump sites, but also reports of people throwing litter from car windows, illegally posted signs and trash blowing out of private trucks or garbage trucks.

“We also have an affidavit on our website they can fill out, sign and return to us,” Moore said. When witnesses provide license plates or other identifying markers of an offending vehicle or can identify the individual, “we will track them down and issue a citation.”

Moore said the suspect is presented “all the evidence we have -- witness statement, photographs, etc. They have the right to come to court, but when they see the evidence against them about 80 percent pay the ticket and move on.”

The program “works great,” he said. “It takes three things to make it work: litter abatement crews, consistent enforcement and education.

“Of the three, educating our children is probably the most important,” he continued. “Children must be taught in school to pick up after themselves, to not litter and about the harmful effects of littering.”

The state passed a mandatory litter education bill in 2017, he said, which is a big step in the right direction.

“I’ve talked to officials in other states, like Virginia and Kentucky, and they’ve had these laws in place for 20 years and it has had great results,” Moore said. “Louisiana has never had it. It may take 20 years before this law shows any effect, but it is a huge step in the right direction.”

The parish includes illegal signs in its program..

“Anyone posting a lost dog or cat, garage sale, etc. , sign is ticketed,” he said. “I have seen some people cover the entire face of a stop sign with their signs.”

Such signs eventually “clog the drains or get cut up by lawnmowers and turned into confetti spread across lawns. They cause a mess.”

Litter control is not one of those things that “just happens,” Moore said.

St. Tammany has three litter abatement crews. Two are trusties from the parish jail. A third is made up of people sentenced to community service for litter violations, DWI and other offenses.

The program also brings in a claw truck to aid in cleaning up the parish roadways.

The litter crews picked up 52,000 pounds of trash along 133 miles of parish roads in the first month of the program in February 2017 and over 500,000 pounds of trash along 1,000 miles of roadway in the first year.

Moore said he has spoken to about 16 parish governments about the St. Tammany Litter Court program. He said he is always willing and available to help parishes set up a program.

GRANT’S EXPERIENCE

Several years ago, Grant Parish Justice of the Peace Chuck Evans established a litter court in that rural parish. He retired in 2014 and is still an advocate of aggressive enforcement of anti-litter ordinances.

“We were one of the first litter courts in the state,” Evans said. “I got a bill passed in the Legislature giving constables parishwide jurisdiction to issue citations for litter violations.”

Evans said that in rural Grant Parish he and other JPs and constables asked the Grant Police Jury to adopt an ordinance allowing justices of the peace to handle litter violations.

“It wasn’t working that well,” Evans said.

Instead of each JP handling cases in their ward, the decision was made to hold one litter court in the Police Jury meeting room, with JPs rotating as the presiding judge.

Since the proceedings were held at night, the district judge recommended they hold court in the courtroom instead of the Police Jury meeting area.

He also led an effort to reduce the number of JP and constable districts from eight to five, “because some of them just weren’t participating.”

Evans said he kept the program and litter court going.

“My last session I had about 35 cases,” he said.

The program has stalled somewhat since he retired, he said.

“It takes time, work and people cooperating to make it effective,” Evans said.

Litter control is an important issue, he said.

“It is getting worse by the day,” Evans continued. “The thing is, if the ordinance is not enforced it is not worth the paper it is written on.”

WHAT NEXT?

Avoyelles Civil Works Director Kevin Bordelon said public response from a recent news article on the parish’s litter problem makes him optimistic the parish can mount an effective anti-litter program.

“Most of the calls I have received have been thanking us for the trash and garbage collection service the parish provides, expres-sing concerns that litter is a problem that needs to be addressed and offering assistance,” Bordelon said.

If the calls expressing support for a solution reflect the public’s overall attitude, Bordelon said, Avoyelles would have a leg up on the difficult task of controlling its litter problem.

AVOYELLES JOURNAL
BUNKIE RECORD
MARKSVILLE WEEKLY

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Marksville, LA 71351
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