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Pandemic hasn’t stopped all efforts to pick up roadside trash

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office has allowed inmates to once again help county residents rid area roadways of trash, as efforts by some residents to remove roadside litter continue.

“[W]e had suspended the program for about the last six months but under the conditions I am seeing countywide, we can’t sit back and allow COVID to hold us back anymore,” Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“The inmates are outside in open air and wear gloves and boots and utilize hand tools to assist with their efforts,” he said.

Inmates could be seen over the weekend ridding the stretch of Mt. Olive Church Road to Rennert Road of litter. Seventy-eight bags of trash were collected Saturday from beside Mt. Olive Church Road, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

When the weekend was over, inmates had collected 159 total bags, including from areas on Ivey Road and Moore’s Lane in Lumberton, Wilkins said.

The Sheriff’s Office released a statement encouraging participation of county residents in clearing the county’s roadsides of trash.

“Please do your part and let’s clean up this county as quickly as possible. Safely gather up friends, civic groups and other volunteers, social distance, wear masks and gloves and start efforts in your community. We will continue to do what we can but there is absolutely no way that a group of 5 inmates can clean up this entire county. Our office, to include deputies, detention officers and civilian staff are planning a volunteer participation effort to clean up some areas soon. If we can do it, so can you,” the statement reads.

Pembroke residents such as 48-year-old Giovanni Selles and Garci Locklear, 63, could be seen Tuesday afternoon clearing the sides of McMillian Road of litter.

Locklear has been speaking to others for the past two weeks trying to get her community cleaned up. She turned to community members for help after she saw her niece and nephew out collecting trash on Tuesday.

“I said ‘Y’all stay right here, I’m bringing people to come help you,’” Locklear said.

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Selles responded. He brought supplies, like vests and bags, to the group of community members that totaled 12, including Selles and Locklear.

Selles has lived on McMillian Road for about 12 years.

“It’s really bad out here, and other places in Robeson County, so we’re going to fight this fight and keep this area clean,” Selles said.

“It takes a unified effort to do something like this,” Locklear said. “We all need to be pitching in to beautify our area.”

Rob Price, who serves as Rowland’s town attorney, continues his effort to clean up Lumberton roadsides, which he began in 2019. Since he began, Price has picked up more than 500 bags of trash.

“I try to pick up everything from Exit 17 to Exit 22 on the side of the interstate (Interstate 95) and the service road (Kahn Drive),” the 66-year-old Lumberton resident said.

He also tries to clear the service roads between the exits of trash.

Price was spurred into action after seeing an intersection in Parkton littered with trash in the spring of 2019.

“I decided I just can’t take it anymore,” he said. “I’ve got to do something about it.”

He recalled picking up 24 trash bags from that area. Price later moved his efforts to Lumberton.

His anti-litter efforts have earned him thank-yous from passing motorists and the county’s Sheriff’s Office, Price said.

If every business would sponsor clearing areas from within 100 feet of their doors or driveways of trash, they would make a difference in keeping Lumberton clean, he said.

Towns like Red Springs and Maxton are asking the public’s help in clearing away roadside trash.

“We just need help because we’re very limited on employees at this time because of COVID-19,” said David Ashburn, town manager of Red Springs.

COVID-19 has put a stop to help from state prison inmates and employees from the Lumber River Council of Governments.

The town has seen about five community members in the past month come to Town Hall asking for supplies to help clean their areas, Ashburn said. He plans to include a flyer in the next utility bill to recruit more help.

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“We’re officially kicking that off with our next utility bill,” Ashburn said.

Maxton’s interim Town Manager Angela Pitchford met with the Public Works and Waste Water directors this week to discuss the littering problem in town, she said. This week marked the start of efforts to monitor areas in the town where a lot of trash is dropped.

“They’re starting to dump furniture and other things as well,” Pitchford said.

She plans to look into penalties for violators, and might consider speaking to commissioners about drafting an ordinance specifically for littering, Pitchford said.

“That’s something we are going to look into,” she said.

North Carolina law has penalties for littering that range from $250 to $1,000 fines.

“Intentional littering in the amount of 15 pounds or less is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 to $1,000 and up to 24 hours of community service,” according to the State Department of Transportation.

Robeson County Solid Waste has seen a 33% increase in tickets for littering from 2019 to 2020, said Kristina Locklear-Cummings, assistant director of Solid Waste.

“Solid Waste convenience sites continue to see unprecedented amounts of waste at the sites, however, we have increased the amount of staff and changed our routes to become more efficient and effective,” she said.

“As trash is brought into the landfill from various locations, it is identified by type and occasionally location. The waste brought in and actually identified as roadside waste has actually decreased however. This is largely due to lack of workforce available to complete the pickups,” she added.

The county has plans in place to help decrease litter.

“Our plan is that as soon as our numbers (COVID-19 cases in the county) start to decline and we feel safe, that we will be initiating, or jump-starting, our clean and green program,” said Faline Dial, chair of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and member of the Robeson County Clean and Green Committee.

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She hopes to have the committee operating by spring, if COVID-19 numbers allow.

The committee hasn’t met since Feb. 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, she said. Dial encourages family members, who live together, to pick up trash in their communities. People wishing to do so can contact the county’s Solid Waste Department for guidance and assistance.

Robeson County Commissioner David Edge hopes to revive and launch Project Trash Talk, a weeklong curriculum to educate elementary school children on the problem of littering during the week of Earth Day, which will be in April. The curriculum did not reach students in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to get it going this year,” said Edge, who took the lead in developing the curriculum.

He plans to meet with PSRC Superintendent Freddie Williamson to discuss launching the program, Edge said. A date for that meeting has not been set.

Edge and community members have placed eight signs on Barker Ten Mile road to discourage littering. The signs carry such messages as “This is our road, please don’t trash it” and “When in doubt, don’t throw it out.”

He has received positive feedback from the signage, with some people in the community saying they have seen improvement since the signs was placed in 2020, Edge said.

The commissioner’s message about littering in the county is simple.

“Just don’t do it,” Edge said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to pick up roadside litter can call Robeson County Solid Waste at 910-865-3348. When finished, volunteers can contact NCDOT to schedule a collection of the filled trash bags, or the bags can be dropped off at any of the county’s Solid Waste convenience sites.

“We encourage as much assistance from groups and individuals as possible with picking up waste while attempting to be as safe as possible,” Locklear-Cummings said.



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