Logan County Commissioner Diana Barnette hosted a public forum Thursday night to address litter and dumping in the county.
Informally titled “let’s talk trash,” Barnette said the purpose of the forum was to unite the community, discuss solutions and ultimately create a litter control program. A conversation has begun in Logan County, but a solution is unfortunately still unclear.
Barnette invited the public, community leaders and other elected office holders to join her at her movie theater establishment, the Fountain Place Cinema 8, to collaborate on a solution. Barnette said she doesn’t believe in a silver bullet approach.
“I think it’s going to be a combination of ideas. That’s why we’re here,” Barnette said.
A makeshift dais below one of the theater’s projection screens comprised many dignitaries from the legislature, county commission and magistrate court. Moreover, officials from the Division of Natural Resources and Department of Highways participated as well.
State Senator Rupie Phillips along with House of Delegates members Margitta Mazzocchi and Jordan Bridges offered a legislative perspective.
Logan County Prosecuting Attorney David Wandling and Division of Natural Resources Officers Larry Harvey and Sgt. Larry Rockell discussed code and the limits of law enforcement as it pertains to prosecuting violators.
Logan County Commissioners Danny Ellis and Danny Godby participated in the forum. Additionally, County Code Enforcer Ray Perry and County Administrator Rocky Adkins also participated.
Magistrates Dwight Williamson, Joe Mendez and David Adkins offered a judicial branch perspective. Larry Hubbard from the West Virginia Division of Highways rounded out the panel.
Commissioner Danny Ellis summed up the goal of the evening. “We’re basically looking for new solutions to an old problem,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the county commission has attempted numerous times to address the problem of litter and dumping. He said every effort has ended with the same result of simply picking up people’s trash.
“Picking up trash is not the solution,” Ellis said.
Magistrate Joe Mendez said sentencing nonviolent offenders to community service gathering garbage from roadsides can help with litter and the county jail bill. However, any person sentenced by a magistrate is still under the administrative custody and supervision of the county sheriff. Magistrates may only impose participation in a day report center with consent from an administrative order of the chief judge of the circuit court.
“Instead of putting them in jail they can be out there cleaning up the creeks, but we have to have someone there to watch these people in order to do it,” Mendez said.
Prosecutor Wandling said the sheriff’s department has been approached about community service supervision in the past.
“The last time we checked on this issue with the sheriff’s department we were told they don’t have the manpower,”
Wandling also said that the state’s primary littering statute allows for community service as well. The prosecutor explained that the fines for littering are very high, and quipped if people could afford the fines, they would pay their garbage bill and avoid the problem from the beginning. An individual must litter over 500 pounds in weight or 216 cubic feet in size of trash for littering to be a jailable offense.
Wandling said there is a provision to allow for supervision by an official from the Department of Environmental Protection. Wandling said he has never known of anyone at the DEP supervising litter pick up in his sixteen-year career. Yet, Wandling believes a community service sentence would be the best solution for deterring future offenders.
Members of the public offered other potential remedies. City of Logan resident Gary Corns advocated for universal collection laws in the county.
“That simply means you’re not given an option to decide if you’re going to haul your garbage to Pecks Mill,” Corns said.
Corns explained that residents would be assessed a fee for garbage service through their property taxes. Corns said the cost is the same to pick up all the refuge from homes in a community instead of just the homes with collection services currently. This could also mean collection sites with dumpsters for the public to use at their convenience. Competitive bidding could determine different garbage vendors for different areas of the county potentially.
One proposal that continued to be batted about as a deterrent by members of the public and the panel was public embarrassment. This tactic employs an array of ideas from “chain-gangs” in pink shirts listing their crimes to social media posts condemning an individual for littering or dumping.
There was some degree of agreement that Logan County is experiencing a cultural problem as it relates to garbage dumping and litter. Education was offered as a potential effort to curb generational apathy to keeping the community from appearing depressed, cluttered and dirty.
Fifth grade teacher Angie Adkins said more must be done by setting good examples and educating children.
"You think fifth grade is too young?" Adkins asked. "That's too late to change their mindset. They already have their cultural influence."
Adkins explained that her class researched and discussed all the different implications involved with litter including home values and crime. Adkins said the students were astonished by their findings, yet they still leave snack wrappers in the floor.
"They are never taught or held accountable for their actions. It has to start earlier," Adkins concluded.
State Senator Rupie Phillips said he is all in on trying to combat the problem and suggested programs to facilitate good behavior such as social media good deeds. The Senator also advocated for shaming individuals.
"I'm the one who increased the litter fines years ago and made it to where magistrates couldn't drop tickets," Phillips said.
Magistrate Dwight Williamson countered by saying the increased penalties made littering a minimum $2,000 civil penalty. "The officers quit writing tickets because they knew the people couldn't afford that."
Moreover, WIlliamson said magistrates cannot dismiss cases without the approval of the prosecuting attorney.
For the moment, there is no clear solution to the plague of garbage eye sores and trash laden ditch lines. Thursday night's forum did open up the dialogue for elected officials in the state and the county to work together to clean up the community.