As soon as they pulled up in the parking lot of a business on Navco Road Friday morning and noticed the rain-soaked trash on the ground, municipal enforcement officers Paula Hillery and Wayne Rooks knew they’d be writing a litter citation to the property owner.
An overflowing dumpster in the back of the business, near a tributary for Bolton Branch Creek, didn’t make the situation any better.
“The property owner will be ticketed,” Rooks said. “This is the main thing we’re trying to avoid.”
“They will be getting a ticket for the parking lot, the dumpster and the loose trash,” Hillery added.
That’s one $250 citation for multiple violations of the reinforced new litter ordinance. Once they returned to the office and verified the property owner, they would mail a ticket, Hillery said.
The focus of litter ordinance compliance so far, since it went into effect Oct. 1, has been commercial properties and it will remain that way for another week or so, Urban Development Director Laura Clarke said. She added that the group of property maintenance compliance officers would begin patrolling residential areas in a couple weeks.
“The focus is on commercial sites along major thoroughfares,” Clarke said Friday morning.
Also, there will be no warning for businesses or residents not in compliance, she said.
“We’re going straight to writing tickets,” Clarke said. “We worked hard over the last two to three months to make the community aware of what’s coming. We feel notice was provided.”
Members of the group will be in teams of two to begin enforcing the new litter ordinance. Once the city spreads the focus to residential areas, the teams will split. Rooks and Hillery spent a few weeks scouting out the neighborhoods surrounding Dauphin Island Parkway and providing pamphlets to area businesses before enforcement began.
“They’ve all gotten pamphlets,” Hillery said of the business on Navco Road. “We really were thinking they’d clean this up.”
They drove past a previously cited business near the intersection of Pleasant Valley Road and Government Boulevard, before stopping to look at its dumpster.
“Anytime it’s over the edge where you can’t close the lid that’s too much,” Rooks said of the trash in the receptacle. “They won’t be getting a ticket today. We’ll give them until their court date.”
All businesses and individuals cited for violations related to the new litter ordinance will be expected to show up in municipal environmental court around four weeks after they are cited, Clarke said.
The enforcement officers allow those cited until their court date to clean up any problem areas.
Hillery and Rooks stopped near another business on Halls Mill Road Friday to point out the loose tires stacked up behind the shop. Rooks noted that the loose tires were a violation, but the property owner was currently awaiting a separate court date, so no fine would be written.
“The tires should be more contained,” he said. “You have to keep the tires rotated by having them hauled off on a regular basis.”
Rooks noted that the ordinance was also trying to stop repeat offenders.
“We’re trying to stop people who do this continually,” he said. “That’s what this administration is after.”
Another area of concern was a shopping center on DIP, where a citation would also be issued, Rooks said. The property owner would be cited for old furniture in the dumpster area as well as trash behind the dumpster and the air conditioning unit.
“This is cleaner than it usually is,” Rooks said. “They’re trying. They’re really trying.”
He noted that this property owner has begun to lock its dumpsters, which is recommended.
“A lot of the trash in the dumpsters comes from people who come by and dump their trash in the dumpster,” Rooks said.
Hillery added that property owners are responsible for keeping the city right-of-way near a property clean as well, as she walked by an empty bag for chips on the ground.
“This is a problem area,” Rooks said. “This is high volume and kids walk through here coming home from school.”
He nodded to the residential property across the street and pointed to a large amount of litter on the right-of-way in front of it. Rooks said residential property owners would be responsible for keeping rights-of-way clean once enforcement began in those areas.
Officers haven’t begun enforcing a provision in the amended ordinance requiring dumpsters be enclosed on three sides because it was slightly amended. The original provision would’ve required a gate, or a fourth side, as part of the enclosure, she said. The three-sided provision will be enforced beginning in May.
The biggest violations expected when enforcement turns to residential neighborhoods will be on provisions requiring signs only be placed on private property and grass clippings and leaves not be blown into storm drains, Executive Director of Planning and Development Dianne Irby said.
“We’ve got serious stormwater issues and any litter goes straight into our rivers and estuaries,” she said.
Additionally, the city will be on the lookout for junk cars and illegal tire dumps. Junked cars fall under already existing property maintenance laws, but have been highlighted since the litter ordinance was announced.
“If it’s in someone’s backyard it’s not as much of a problem,” Irby said.
If it’s in the front yard, it’s not registered and it’s obvious you’re not working on it then it might be a problem, she said.
Enforcement of the ordinance will require the filling of three more positions, all of which have been budgeted in fiscal year 2015, Clarke said. The initiative is not designed to be a revenue producer, Irby said, even though fine money goes into the general fund.