There are several laws in place that serve as an attempt to keep Bartow County clean, yet they are all violated. One of these laws requires pick-up trucks and trailers to secure a tarp over any trash that is being hauled. "Our main problem [with roadside litter] is trucks and trailers not using a tarp to cover the trash," said Deputy Ken Ford, Environmental Code Enforcement Officer for Bartow. "People have the common misconception that the weight of an item or bag constitutes for the tarp law, but stuff still flies out."
Theoretically, if a citizen is transporting waste to one of the 11 free compactor sites and a bag or item falls off or out of the vehicle, that person should stop to retrieve the debris. Items in the roadway can lead to greater hazards for other drivers. For this reason, violating the tarp law is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and/or jail time.
Littering in general is also punishable by fines and/or jail time. Although many people think of "litter" as "trash," cigarette butts casually flicked out of the vehicle window while driving is just as illegal as dropping an old mattress on the side of a quiet country road. "In terms of litter, the worst problem involves cigarette butts. I've had to stomp out small fires started by them," said Ford. Old campaign signs are among the growing list of litter concerns. Politicians can be fined for leaving old signs out on the roads after elections are over, and, like any other litter problem, cases can be filed against these violators.
There are currently three prison crews working to clear areas of waste. "The county is split up into sections and crews have a route that they normally take," said Jerry Hames, Recycling Coordinator. "They can only get out there Monday through Thursday and on the condition that there is no precipitation falling and temperatures are at 28 degrees and rising." Although the crews have normal routines, they will go to any road citizens request.
"Bartow is one of the biggest counties in the state," said Sheri Henshaw, coordinator for Keep Bartow Beautiful. "People constantly think nothing is being done, but we are taxed to the max just like everyone else." Taking budget into consideration, volunteers are always welcome and encouraged to get involved through the Keep Bartow Beautiful organization.
In terms of the city of Cartersville, Jeff Geisen, Assistant Director of Cartersville Public Works, stated that "We have less area to cover in the city limits, but people should feel free to contact us if they see anything in particular."
Due to littering being considered an actual crime, any law enforcement officer is authorized to place charges against violators. However, because this rarely happens, Henshaw stated Ford is on duty to handle the cases. In terms of private property, Henshaw commented that "people get angry when they are asked to clean up, so we have a sheriff's office deputy [to maintain order in such cases]."
"We have elected judges that hold a separate court for litter offenses," said Henshaw. "The problem there is sometimes the cases are thrown out for cost of taxpayer dollars." If the case is severe enough, it can be taken before the state Superior Court, but this is also a long, slow process. Fines are used to help pay for the clean up, but people can be forced to rid the area of any trash. Henshaw further stated that Bartow County's ordinances are tougher than the state's, and attempts to force people to clean up their property is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Although volunteers can help the crews with the endless maintenance task, they cannot go onto private property. Even if permission was granted by the owner, the individuals or specific organization would be in charge of paying the cost for the project. With many properties being taken over by bank foreclosures, Henshaw stated that no one seems to be taking ownership of the land and, therefore, determining who is responsible for the care-taking is increasingly difficult.
Individuals wishing to take action are strongly discouraged from cleaning up areas themselves. "Litter is a crime scene," said Ford. "Meth labs are always being discarded and anything could be in those trash bags, including hypodermic needles." The desire to help is encouraged, but safety concerns overrule immediate response from everyday people.
To gain a greater perspective on the issue, Solid Waste Director Ripley Conner stated that "We spend close to $120,000 annually for pick-up crews. On average when looking at the past six years, crews travel 1,411 miles and collect 7,621 bags of litter that weighs 275 tons per year." Requests are accepted for specific areas that need attention, but as Henshaw pointed out, the Department of Transportation strongly discourages anyone from working on state roads. According to Conner, the areas that are currently causing the greatest issues are Burnt Hickory, Peeple's Valley and Euharlee.
Anyone who witnesses illegal dumping is asked to write down vehicle tag numbers and call Ford at 770-387-5798 so that an investigation can begin. Any requests or questions may also be directed to Ford or the Solid Waste Department, which can be contacted at 770-387-5145. Anyone wishing to coordinate a volunteer clean up is requested to contact Henshaw at 770-387-5167. Concerns within Cartersville city limits can be directed to Geisen at 770-387-5602.