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“Let’s talk trash.”

Trash was indeed the subject addressed by some county officials at a recent public meeting hosted by Logan County Commissioner Diana Barnette in which the subject of littering and illegal garbage disposal in Logan County were the issues.

Present for the discussion were representatives of the Department of Natural Resources, the Logan County Commission, Logan Prosecuting Attorney David Wandling, two Logan County House of Delegates members, a state Department of Highways official, a Waste Management representative, State Sen. Rupie Phillips, and all three Logan County magistrates.

In the audience were at least two Logan County mayors, Logan County Clerk John Turner, several businessmen, teachers and other concerned citizens who either posed questions or presented their ideas as to how to address the littering and trash problem in the county.

Commissioner Barnette should be thanked for calling the meeting to not only acknowledge the problem but to seek ideas how to make Logan County a “cleaner” place for people to live and out-of-state visitors — particularly Hatfield-McCoy trail riders — to visit. In addition to Barnette, her fellow commissioners Danny Godby and Danny Ellis were present and spoke about the annual free cleanup that the commission sponsors in Man, Chapmanville and Logan at a six-digit figure yearly cost.

If you’ve ever seen the mountains of garbage collected each year at the three county free-dump locations that includes just about anything you can imagine, it leaves us to wonder why anyone would find the need to dump refrigerators, stoves and so many other household items into our beautiful hills and valleys. Visitors to our hills are not only appalled but puzzled as to why anyone would do such a thing.

Not only do we have to deal with our hills becoming trash dumps, but apparently too many Logan Countians (and others) believe a ditch line is a proper depository for everything from fast food wrappers to wine bottles. Nearly every one of us see this litter problem no matter where you live in Logan County. We drive by it daily and, frankly, we take it for granted. We are simply accustomed to it, and that’s sad.

Civic organizations such as the Logan Lions Club and other groups of people have taken it upon themselves to pick up litter in various parts of the county, but no one can expect any group of people, the county commission or any entity to continuously clean up after perpetrators, who think nothing is improper about tossing trash out the windows of their vehicles.

As I’ve stated before, it is difficult for law enforcement to catch these people in the act of littering. I have learned that drivers and passengers like to dispose of their litter in ditch lines, usually around curves where they are not easily spotted.

Litter law punishment was legislatively increased dramatically in recent years, but changed nothing — I believe — because few people knew of the dramatic increase that even included a minimum $2,000 civil penalty in addition to hefty fines, court costs, and mandatory community service. While ignorance of the law is no excuse, making people aware of changes in laws might help prevent certain illegal activities, including littering and illegal disposal of garbage. Many laws come into existence, but people are not aware, or even care, about them in some instances.

Currently, it is not a jailable offense to toss a cigarette butt or some other object (a soda pop can, etc.) from a vehicle, or even from your person, but if you are caught doing so, then you should know that the penalty is costly, as a violator is looking at a minimum fine of $100 to $1,000, $175.25 court costs and eight to 16 hours of community service, such as cleaning up ditch lines, etc. In addition, the violator is looking at a mandatory $200 to $2,000 civil penalty. If you think about it, that wrapper or cigarette butt could cost a guilty individual as much as $3,175.25, plus, the embarrassment of 16 hours’ community service while wearing orange. However, if one chooses to illegally dump more than 500 pounds of refuse anywhere in the state, not only are you going to jail, but the fines are also dramatically increased.

At the recent meeting of “trashed minds,” it was suggested that school children need to be educated about the evils of littering. However, if a child sitting in the back seat of his parents’ vehicle sees a parent toss something out a window, isn’t that the green light the kid needs to think littering is ok?

I remember back in the 1980s when Sheriff Tom “Rose” Tomblin started the “Just Say No to Drugs” program in Logan County whereby deputies, especially deputy Eddie Hunter, who would later himself become sheriff of Logan, regularly visited school classrooms full of children to teach the evils of illegal drug use to the students. In more recent years, a similar program has been utilized by other law enforcement.

Unfortunately, too many of those students of yesteryear, who today are adults and likely have children of their own, didn’t say “no,” as the drug epidemic continues to reach new levels, despite every effort of both law enforcement and the judicial system.

Perhaps, it is these same individuals — once they are apprehended for their criminal behaviors — who should be the ones out on the roads daily picking up trash and other debris. Magistrates and circuit court judges currently already have the lawful ability to sentence such people to community services such as this.

The problem is these people have to be supervised, either by jail correctional officers or county litter personnel, or law enforcement, police, who I believe really should be dealing with other matters that will likely lead to even more inmates picking up trash.

While jail inmates, even from other counties, should be made to work for their keep, so to speak, I believe it would be a good thing for everyone — including county residents and visitors — if we could see a lot of orange along our roadways.

The incentive could be for every day they work the inmate would receive two additional days toward their sentence. The rules, however, have to be changed to allow just about any nonviolent inmate to be utilized. This, too, could help alleviate the county jail bill burden.

My suggestion is to look at how other states utilize inmates to do various work details. It doesn’t have to be a “chain gang” atmosphere, merely a work detail with proper supervision to protect the public. In addition, anyone issued a citation for littering or unlawful dumping, or illegal burning, should also be subject to litter work supervision.

There have been countywide cleanup efforts in the past. In fact, 58 years ago, in 1963 during the centennial celebration of West Virginia becoming a state, local women’s clubs, which existed at Holden, Omar, Man, Chapmanville, Verdunville and Logan and other area locations, along with Boy Scouts in various troops in the county, united to pick up trash. Various coal and land companies provided private dumps for depositing refuse.

The irony of the 1963 time period is that in some ways it was similar to today. Not only were people getting a vaccine (for the crippling disease known as polio), but the issue of racism prevailed in the news when on the same day of the litter cleanup announcement, it was also announced that a white antisegregationist from Maryland was shot to death on a highway in northeast Alabama while hiking his way to Mississippi to an anti-segregation rally. William Moore, 35, had taken a bus from Maryland to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he began his long hike.

Today, like in 1963, we have vaccinations, a countywide cleanup effort, and racism issues. However, do you know another similarity there is to the local litter cleanup campaign of so long ago?

Mrs. T.L. Henritze of the Logan Woman’s Club was named by Governor Wally Barron way back then to head the county’s cleanup. Ironically, today’s effort is being spearheaded by another Logan Woman’s Club member — Diana Barnett.

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.

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