See something, say something.
It’s Homeland Security’s rallying cry in the battle against terrorism, encouraging U.S. citizens to report suspicious activity.
But on a local scale, it is also an appropriate way to describe what officials hope will be the public’s response to litterbugs they encounter on roadways.
The Scott County Mayor’s Office is set to roll out its new text-a-tip program, which will encourage motorists to text photos of litterbugs’ license plate whenever they see someone tossing trash out of their vehicle. The Mayor’s Office will then work with the Scott County Sheriff’s Department to identify those violators, proceeding first to anti-litter education and then, if necessary in the case of repeat offenders, legal action.
Mary Ann Perdue, administrative assistant to Scott County Mayor Dale Perdue and coordinator of the county’s litter program, said the program is based on the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s litter reporting hotline.
“DOT kinda does this already and I just went with that,” Perdue said. “I thought it would be cool if we could do something like that in Scott County.”
The idea is that nearly everyone carries a cell phone that has the capability to take high-quality photographs. By setting up a hotline, the county can accept photographs from witnesses to littering, who are encouraged to use their phone to snap a photo of the offender’s license plate and text it to authorities, along with a description that includes the date, time and location of the littering incident, along with a description of what kind of trash was thrown out.
“We thought that if people could click the picture and say, ‘This vehicle dumped a food bag on Highway 63 in Fairview,’ then we could call the Sheriff’s Department and get a name,” Perdue said.
After discussions between the Mayor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Tommy Silcox, the plan was put into action. Callers who report litterbugs will remain anonymous, and will only be contacted by the text-a-tip program if supporting information is needed.
Perdue said her office will receive all texts, and license plate numbers will be turned over to the Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement will identify the person the vehicle is registered to, returning that information to Perdue’s office. That person will then receive a packet that includes a trash bag that can be kept in their vehicle, along with a “friendly letter” that informs them they or whoever was driving their vehicle are in violation of the law, and could be subject to criminal penalties.
Citations will not be issued on first offenses, Perdue said. However, a database of offenders will be kept, and repeat offenders can be ticketed. Tennessee law provides for misdemeanor citations for litterbugs, beginning with a $50 fine for minor offenses, ranging up to a felony offense and a fine of up to $3,000 or even jail time for repeat offenders of commercial dumping.
While tossing out a fast food bag would generally fall into the category of mitigated criminal littering, dumping larger amounts of trash — such as furniture or used tires — carry heightened penalties, such as fines up to $2,500, up to 160 hours of public service and as much as a year in jail. Repeat offenses are felonies.
While court appearances would not generally be considered for minor violators, Perdue said anyone dumping larger amounts of trash, especially tires, will be immediately cited into court.
The number for Scott County’s text-a-tip litter hotline is 423-215-2789.
Cracking Down On Litter
The text-a-tip program is just one example of the Scott County Litter Program’s stepped-up approach to littering. Perdue said the program is utilizing two cameras, which are being utilized for surveillance at problem dump sites along rural roadways.
So far, the cameras — which are motion-activated, similar to trail cameras used by hunters — are proving difficult to catch violators in the act, because most do not return to the site of their original dump.
“When we clean up a dump site and place a camera on it, they won’t come back there again,” Perdue said.
Still, she said, the cameras will continue to be placed on dump sites, in hopes that litterbugs who are dumping their trash instead of taking it to the landfill or the recycling center can be nabbed. Large dumps, she said, are pursued with criminal penalties in mind. The Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating a dump site on Sheep Ranch Road near Robbins, and has identified a suspect, who is currently being sought.
The next step for the litter program is to purchase tarps, which will be distributed to truckers who are hauling large loads of trash over Scott County’s roadways. Once those are given out, law enforcement and the litter program will begin cracking down on uncovered vehicles. State law requires that all trucks transporting trash be covered by a tarp.
“We’re going to go to the landfill for a couple of days and hand them out, and we’ll also give some to the Sheriff’s Department and let them pass them out,” Perdue said.
In addition, the litter program is going to utilize grant funding for a billboard and other marketing efforts.
Scott County’s litter officer, Tim Slaven, is assigned a crew of three inmates from the Scott County Justice Center and is on the road with his crew five days each week, targeting especially trashy roadways throughout the community. Slaven utilizes trustees from the jail, who cannot be charged with violent offenses and who must pass random drug screenings.
“They’re out there somewhere every day of the week, picking up trash,” Perdue said. “If it rains, we can’t pick up, and if it’s really, really hot, they have to take it easy. We supply them with boots, vests and gloves to meet DOT standards, and the mayor says they have to have water and Gatorade.”
While the Sheriff’s Department will not allow inmates on some roadways, such as portions of Paint Rock Road, due to safety concerns, the litter crew generally targets areas throughout the county. Especially important are U.S. Hwy. 27 and S.R. 63 outside the incorporated areas of Oneida and Huntsville. While TDOT crews occasionally pick up trash along those sections of roadway, Perdue said the county crew targets those sections of the state highways once each week.
The litter crew also targets areas where visitors to Scott County are likely to be during event periods. For example, on the Wednesday prior to Memorial Day, the litter crew picked up trash along River Road, which was the site of Brimstone’s White Knuckle Event, bringing thousands of guests to the area.
Beyond that, whenever someone calls with a problem area, the litter crew tries to target it, Perdue said. She cited a recent example of a funeral procession at Winona, where the litter crew cleaned up the roadway ahead of the procession. She encouraged residents with a litter problem on their roadway to contact her at 223-5156, or Slaven at 215-8932.
While much of the trash that ultimately winds up being dumped on Scott County’s roadways could be deposited for free at the Alberta Landfill at Bear Creek or at the Scott County Recycling Center on Scott High Drive, Perdue said sometimes trash winds up on the roadside that could be taken care of even more easily than that.
Scott County has a reuse center, which accepts most used furniture. The furniture is stored in a facility in the Annadell community, where it’s distributed to fire victims or others who have lost their homes.
“If you have used furniture, don’t dump it,” Perdue said. “Just call us and we’ll come get it.” To schedule a pickup, contact the mayor’s office, 663-2000.
In the meantime, Perdue said the litter program is going to continue to step up its efforts to combat Scott County’s trash problem.
“We just plan to keep on,” she said. “If you’ve got a problem, call. It may take me a few days to figure something out, but we will figure out something.”