Editorial, Tuesday, March 17, 1998

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Tuesday, March 17, 1998

First impressions make lasting impressions.

The first U.S. Highway 78 exit interchange coming into to Tupelo from the west made a bad impression on many motorists Monday. Its litter-strewn slopes, road shoulders and medians exemplify the kind of litter and trash problem local, county and state officials fight every day.

One small stretch of the Belden interchange contained more than 60 containers (plastic, glass, paper and other materials in various stages of decomposition), a sizable piece of corrugated metal like roofing “tin,” broken beer bottles of various brand names, a magazine, and what appeared to be a large piece of firewood or small saw timber.

Hundreds of people, in all probability, share blame for the garbage-dump first impression made by the intersection. Other interchanges, streets and county roads around Tupelo and across Northeast Mississippi make similar impressions because we have not collectively chosen to make littering unacceptable.

Late winter is the best time to fully appreciate the extent of littering in Northeast Mississippi. No lush foliage covers the disposable beverage containers, beer cans and assorted other garbage that look like an ugly curb along some roadways. No weeds hide the gallon-size milk containers, plastic sheeting and odd household items. Some people, it is apparent, will throw anything out of a car or off a truck because they don’t care or have never been taught a better way.

The problem doesn’t respect county or municipal boundaries. It frustrates county supervisors as much as aldermen and city council members. The Lee County Board of Supervisors, in fact, Monday approved a $250 reward for information leading to the conviction of litterers.

It frustrates the private and public sectors, which partner at least as much in the war on litter as any other venture.

However, despite the best efforts of elected officials, private organizations, civic leaders and community clubs, Northeast Mississippi remains a literally trashy place to live.

The apparent inability of all those against litter to make dramatic progress against the problem calls for a re-examination of what’s being done.

Some ideas, like the adopt-a-highway program, work when the volunteers who accept clean-up responsibility do their job. More road, highway and street adoptions are needed. A letter in today’s Forum expresses the outrage and determination of one Tupelo resident to do something about litter in her neighborhood.

Is the fine and punishment structure stiff enough, and is it enforced with the needed rigor?

It’s time to consider a $500 minimum fine for littering and/or illegal trash dumping along roadways, and enforce it with a special focus for a target period perhaps a year. A larger fine should be carry an option for he court to demand payment in days worked cleaning streets and highways. A few days of public labor picking up trash might make offenders and their friends think at least twice before littering again.

It’s time to consider ways to consolidate and focus efforts of the many groups and organizations concerned with the litter problem. The anti-litter effort needs sustained energy and continuity beyond the permanently funded programs like those carried on by Tupelo Public Works and similar departments in other cities

Northeast Mississippians, most all, need to decide that littering won’t be tolerated, no matter who’s responsible.