Panel brainstorms solutions to trash

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, center, leads an intergovernmental forum on roadside trash Tuesday.

GOSHEN — Complaints about roadside refuse are starting to pile up, threatening to trash the good name of Elkhart County, said elected officials at an intergovernmental forum Tuesday.

Representatives from the county, a few towns, some solid waste management companies and law enforcement put their heads together to find ways to discourage what they said is a bigger magnet for controversy than the proposed immigrant detention center that reared its head earlier this year. Nearly everyone, including several audience members, had a story about how much trash they've seen strewn by the road, whether it's from an individual or from a company's hauler, and just as many ideas were floated to address it.

"We all pretty much know we have a problem," observed Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, who presided over the meeting. "It's a problem that's causing good Christians to swear when they call in to leave a complaint."

It's also a problem that's earning Elkhart County a bad reputation, said Indiana Sen. Blake Doriot.

"I've heard comments downstate that you guys build a lot of things, but you never throw anything away," he remarked. "It's not a good image."

'Trash breeds trash'

Yoder said he sees mostly waste from RV manufacturers, and that when people see some industrial packaging already littering the road, they don't think twice about throwing their soda cup out the window. He shared a sentiment from one caller, who said providing jobs and investing in the county doesn't give any company the right to trash the community.

"When people see that, it lowers their expectations," he said. "Trash breeds trash. It seems like whenever we clean the road on Saturday, it's trashed again by Tuesday. It used to stay clean for a few weeks."

Doriot advocated for making it painful enough to litter that offenders will think twice. Yoder made a similar argument, sharing a story about how he threatened to dock his farm workers' pay when the blue rubber gloves they used for handling dairy cows were getting scattered around, and remarking on the need to find a "blue glove-type fine" for Elkhart County.

The problem with levying fines is that you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch litterers in the act, said Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker. Current law also requires that the offender act with intent or recklessness — it's not enough to warrant a ticket if some pieces of trash escape an otherwise secure load.

"We have a hard enough time getting people to testify in a murder, let alone to come testify in a littering case," she said.

She noted that most of the tickets that are handed out are the result of someone doing something like flicking a cigarette out the window when a cop is driving right behind them. She said cases often go into diversion, but that hopefully $50 out of pocket is enough to make them reconsider next time. 

"Give us some ordinances with teeth," asked Capt. Jeff Siegel with the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department. 

Community pride

Much of the discussion also centered on ways to get the message out, whether it's a sign every mile announcing the fine for littering, a hotline to call to report litterers or an advertising campaign urging people to take pride in where they live and keep it clean.

County Commissioner Suzie Weirick said the committee for the Little Big Ideas grant, which awards up to $1,000 for community projects, has talked about devoting one month to proposals for reducing trash. But she also acknowledged that it's a countywide issue bigger than a small grant program.

Discussion also turned to ways to address the trash that's already there, from holding neighborhood cleanups to having work release crews do the job.

One woman in the audience shared her frustration with trying to get people to pitch in, and suggested fining property owners for not cleaning up trash in their yards even if it's not their own.

As for community service crews, county Transportation Manager Jeff Taylor said the program has been successful in the past but that two positions for crew leaders have gone unfilled for the past six months. He said they hope to offer someone one of the jobs soon.

"But we really, really shouldn't have to pick up so much trash to begin with," Weirick added.

(12) comments

fire111

Helen...you need to look along side the roads during go weather. Those full trash bags spaced periodically are volunteer workers results. Watch for people in bright colored vests. Usually volunteer organizations. Some times it's work release people. Remember! It takes an officer out of another position to watch over prisoners!

FlyNavy

"One woman in the audience shared her frustration with trying to get people to pitch in, and suggested fining property owners for not cleaning up trash in their yards even if it's not their own."

Good luck with that one. Fining? Really? Make sure the person issuing the fine has polished jack boots and their arm swastika is on straight.

Dickie

Any local government potential employee has to be 18 years of age. We have tons of work release and community service people out three. Lets give them some more time!

bettermethanyou

".this County Board of Commissioners is a reactive group" Justfacts (kind of)

So just is your complain that THIS group of Commissioners is reactive, or that THIS group of Republicans is reactive and we'd be better served by Democratic Commissioners, or that organizations operate in a reactive manor in general? I'm just try to understand your post.

Helen

I have seen trash trucks with the trash flying out as they go to landfill..trap em. What happened to adopt a road program by County and State that had groups going on on a voluntary community service project and picking up trash a couple times a year? What about the work release people on weekends helping. Also, the RV industry needs to better control what is falling off their units and cleaning up around their sites.

biker1

I can't see where it should take too much brainstorming to solve this messy problem. First of all crack down on the private trash haulers who don't secure their loads. Riding a bike on the county roads I see a lot of refuse that you can tell comes from the trailer factories. Secondly, treat people who toss trash out of their car windows just like drunk drivers. Arrest them, fine them and if need be throw 'em in jail.

correction

Should make food stamp holders do it, they could obviously use some extra money

Just Facts

As I've stated before....this County Board of Commissioners is a reactive group. They wait until there are many complaints and things get really bad before anything is done or money is spent. Hopefully the residents who showed up to this meeting have had enough and they and their neighbors vote them all out of office....and put a proactive commission in. Someone has to stand up to the RV companies as well....the commission can't be afraid of threats that they'll move their companies somewhere else along with that tax base. If they can't find workers here now...they are not going to find them anywhere else. They're not going anywhere! Hold them accountable too! And make them do their part as well. In regards to residents littering....offer rewards to those who report them and have proof via a cell phone pic if necessary. Finally, many subdivisions are now going to trash as well because homeowners aren't taking care of their properties and yards....nor are the HOA boards enforcing the bylaws and codes...they just collect the money and do nothing. The zoning board needs to be held accountable too and enforce the multi family in a single family home situation too. Property values will go down again and foreclosures will increase just like 07-08 the great recession.

My thought

My 12 year old would love to have a Summer job...maybe picking up trash will work?

fire111

Sorry. I don't believe a 12 year old is of age to work in Indiana. Especially to be employed by a government entity.

Helen

they could volunteer. What ever happened to community seervices by scouts, church groups, civic groups. This is our community if you want it to be vibrat the bend over and start picking up trash!

Tim Stewart

Kudos to the young man for WANTING to make some pocket money. Some adults need his enthusiasm.

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