ROCKINGHAM — Violations of county ordinances regarding solid waste — on public or private property — carry penalties that officials said would be enforced more aggressively earlier this year, yet there appear to be some repeat illegal dump sites.
Nick Murphy said the litter problem in Richmond County makes him angry because it leads people to believe residents don’t care about the way visible garbage taints the community’s image.
In one location off Mizpah Road Murphy showed The Daily Journal several mattresses, a discarded sofa, trash and even what appeared to be construction waste.
“There’s a pile of shingles,” he said, pointing. “There’s a lot of shingles on the other side (of the road), but I don’t want to go too far down in there.”
The dirt road runs parallel to a long row of power lines, and Murphy said he believes this dump site is located on an electrical company’s right of way. As he drove, he continued pointing out shingles.
“Pretty much anywhere a truck can come and not get stuck, that’s where they come and dump the shingles out,” Murphy said.
Another location, in a remote cul-de-sac at the end of Sandhill Road — down from Ashley Chapel Educational Center and Poplar Springs Baptist Church — large bags and piles of not-so-fragrant trash lined the pavement which was littered with a particularly large number of used condoms, beer containers and what appeared to be random articles of clothing — all beneath a pair of signs warning, “CAUTION: NO DUMPING” and “CAUTION: CAMERAS.”
It’s not the first time this year that Richmond County has dealt with unsightly trash littering everyplace from roadsides to popular recreational areas.
WALL OF TRASH
In February, Zach Long noticed a mass of garbage in Hitchcock Creek behind Cascades and reached out to the Daily Journal. It was like a wall of plastic bottles and jugs, basketballs, a motorcycle helmet and other items, Long said at the time.
“It hurts people when they see this,” he said. “Some people use (the creek) for fishing, some people come down here for pleasure. People want to relax when they come out kayaking. They don’t want to see a lot of trash.”
The Daily Journal contacted Rockingham City Planner John Massey, who said there was no “dedicated entity” whose responsibility it is to keep the creek clean, but added city workers often pick up trash along the Roberdel and Steele Street access points.
“There’s something about the hydrology there…that causes (trash), especially bottles, to wash up,” Massey said about the Cascades site. “That area floods and that seems to be where all the bottles get dropped off at. I cannot explain it.”
According to Massey, this isn’t a new problem. He said it was first noticed when the paddle trail opened a few years back.
Members of the Creek Runners Club had organized a cleanup effort for March 19, but Cascades employees — along with volunteers from other local businesses and the city of Rockingham — beat them to the punch, collecting about 75 bags of garbage and 17 tires.
The Creek Runners decided to move their event a little farther downstream, near the von Drehle plant, where they picked up 20 bags of refuse, a muffler, a busted kayak and a swimming pool liner.
There were also six total plastic bottles used for manufacturing methamphetamine that were found between the two locations.
In April, volunteers from Perdue Foods collected hundreds of pounds of garbage from both the Richmond and Anson County sides of the Blewett Falls Dam.
However, it needed cleaning again just four months later.
In June, the Daily Journal reported changes to ordinances dealing with litter and solid waste during the regular meeting of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.
“We’ve never had enforcement fees for certain violations,” said Richmond County Solid Waste Director Jerry Austin.
The enforcement fees were added to violations such as improper transportation of solid waste, open or illegal burning of solid waste, improper solid waste storage and littering and illegal dumping.
It was during that meeting when new fines for transporting uncovered garbage were announced. The Daily Journal reported that a first offense for improper transportation is a warning of non-compliance, second offense comes with a $25 fee, third offense of a $75 fee and $500 or court for additional offenses. First offense for open or illegal burning of solid waste also comes with a warning, as does improper storage, with fees for each ranging from $50 to $500.
Other violations, such as illegal dumping, would be penalized by immediate fines with a first offense for littering under 250 pounds or up to one bag carrying a $50 fee. The amount can skyrocket up to as much as $2,000 for a third offense for more than 250 pounds.
BLEWETT FALLS CLEANUP
In August, Allison Sweatt recorded video footage revealing accumulated garbage at the end of Blewett Falls Road near an area often used for recreation.
“Look at all this trash,” Sweatt said. “How does this make us look? What are we gonna do about it, y’all?”
She took her complaints to Facebook, posting photos and videos in a bid to garner support for keeping the area clean.
“It makes me sad to go down there and see baby wipes, Corona cases (and other garbage),” she told the Daily Journal a few hours after posting the video. “It’s where I grew up and I’d like to see it beautiful again.”
Richmond County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Robinette agreed that something must be done to eliminate the garbage littering the area’s places of natural beauty.
“We’re going to continue to get tough on that,” Robinette said. “We’ve just got to do something about this trash…because it is a reflection on the county and it obviously hurts with recruiting people moving in here, industry moving here, and we just need to take a little bit more pride in our county.”
A CLOSER LOOK
In a Monday afternoon telephone conversation, Austin asked for the locations of the places Murphy toured earlier in the day and said his department would investigate those sites.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.