Spring in Moore County is the launch of tourism season, a $560 million industry sustaining over 6,300 jobs, but with North Carolina’s roadsides growing more hazardous with accumulated litter, officials are talking trash.
Roadside litter is more than an eyesore concerning tourism. Public safety, environment, wildlife, and morale are displaced by roadside litter.
In 2020, over 7.5 million pounds of trash was cleaned up. In 2021, 3.3 million pounds has been picked up so far, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) database. That leaves an approximate 4.2 million pounds remaining on roadsides at the start of 2021. The NCDOT, contractors, volunteers, Adopt-A-Highway, Keep Moore County Beautiful, and Sponsor-A-Highway cleaned up litter relating to the database count.
Economics, business and legislation, sociocultural attitudes and the pandemic impacted recent shifts in roadside litter responsibility leading to the unprecedented accumulation.
In 2018, NCDOT offered a statewide roadside litter management program to sheriff departments and Moore County participated.
“Due to budgetary restrictions, NCDOT suspended the program in August of 2019. The Sheriff’s Office would love the opportunity to resume our agreement with the NCDOT,” Moore County Sheriff Department Public Relations Officer Captain Flint said.
Moore County Detention Center had an operating roadside litter program in place. With the NCDOT program, it was paid $35 per shoulder mile in the program that offered a payment of up to $70 per shoulder mile.
“The program was not designed to be profitable. The program was designed to supplement and sustain the Moore County Detention Center’s Roadside cleanup program, in efforts to Keep Moore County Beautiful,” Flint said.
Also in 2018, state legislation cut funding for NCDOT roadside cleanup, and Moore County “noticed an increase in trash clean-up requests.”
The funding was cut under NC Bill 97, and highway funding was eliminated, including $9,040,000 to the Department of Public Safety which provided roadside litter removal. The funds had been issued to the North Carolina Department of Prisons (NCDPS) for inmate roadside litter management.
“The [NCDOT] Department moved away from inmate labor provided by the DPS when the location of the prisons, restrictions on when and where inmates could pick up, and the shortage of prison guards began to impact their ability to provide the service,” NCDOT State Roadside Environmental Engineer David Harris said.
“We used contractors [in the past] to pick up litter every other month along primary routes and addressed complaint issues separately,” Moore County NCDOT Division Maintenance Engineer Chuck Dumas said.
Dumas’ team focuses on primary divided highways and primary undivided highways, and as their financial issues stabilize, plan to contract roadside litter clean-up in the first half of 2021.
As roadside litter accumulates, rodents learn to eat litter. Raptors, such as owls and hawks, some of which are on endangered species lists, learn to hunt roadsides for rodents. The cycle is deadly and expensive, according to wildlife rescues.
“The number one threat to wildlife is man and trash,” Holly’s Nest Animal Rescue owner Byron Wortham said.
Wildlife rescues do not receive state or federal funding.
With over 1,080 miles of roads, Keep Moore County Beautiful (KMCB) is seeking members for leadership roles, advocacy, speaking engagements, strategizing legislation, and laborers. A primary goal is tougher legislation for load securement followed by ticketing, not warnings.
“It really will take a village to clean up our roads now,” KMCB board member Karen Kaplan said. “Growing up, we never saw it like this on our roads. We learned not to litter in school.”
Litterbug awareness campaigns are “not part of the N.C. Course of Study,” Catherine Murphy, director of communications for Moore County schools said.
Statewide – the North Carolina Highway Patrol issued 1, 237 tickets for littering in 2019 and issued 936 in 2020, according to First Sergeant Christopher Knox with the public safety division.
To learn how to help keep Moore County beautiful, contact Moore County Solid Waste Director David Lambert at 910-947-4318 or [email protected].
To volunteer at Keep Moore County Beautiful, please click here.
~Article, photo, and graphic by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Stephanie M. Sellers.