Having lived abroad for 30 years, we wanted to retire somewhere in the south, and finally chose Citrus County for its cleanliness and safety. That was three years ago. Recently, there have been break-ins and thefts, and suddenly the roads of Citrus County are awash with litter. What on Earth is happening?
We're not the only ones who are mystified. Other residents cannot understand why suddenly there is a miles-long string of garbage on County Roads 491 and 486 and State Road 200, among others. It's as if some industrious souls are spending a good part of each day methodically tossing out as much litter as they can find. To add to the dilemma, county-employed mowers are going about their business without removing the litter, so when there's a plastic bag in the grass it is spewed out the other end of the mower in 100 tiny pieces. The litterbugs start the problem, but the mowers finish the job. How can this be stopped?
We began to take a close look at the "Adopt-A-Road" signs. Wal-Mart, Publix, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts joined with other organizations, it was claimed, to patrol stretches of the roads. That's well and good, but it wasn't happening. Some of us began to call those patrols and others went into stores and spoke with managers. Two of them exploded in frustration: "We've been calling and calling the county to have our name removed, but nothing is done. We can't possibly put employees onto litter assignment who are doing other jobs."
Others were puzzled. "We don't know anything about it. We have been here for years and have never agreed to any litter patrol." Only one was aware of the program. That Boy Scout leader said, "We agreed to help out in the beginning, and kept it up for five years. But we can't do it anymore. We haven't worked on the litter pickup for years."
A Boy Scout executive was called. Couldn't he approach other troops in the county to see if other boys would get involved? "I'll check with the leaders at our meeting in January, to see what can be done," he promised.
Meanwhile, who's responsible for cleaning up the mess? Or must we depend on the occasional cleanups by county prisoners and senior walkers like us who try to keep up with the slobs who are trashing Citrus County?
When phoning the alleged helpers in the Adopt-A-Road program, I learned early on that everyone expects the next fellow to do the work. No one seemed to know anything about it. I was passed from one department to the next, then back to the original one. All agreed "something should be done," but they weren't the ones to do it.
Well, whose job is it?
First, it's the job of the slobs to stop tossing their garbage on the roadside. The roadside belongs to all of us and all of us have to look at it every day, littered or not.
It's certainly the job of the police to enforce litter laws and keep their eyes open for offenders. It's important to publicize their intentions to fine or penalize anyone caught littering. Sadly, one police spokesman told me they didn't like to put anti-litter signs on the roads, fearing the vandals would be reminded to dump even more litter. What nonsense! Do the police hesitate to erect speed limit signs lest drivers deliberately speed up when they see them? New York's "zero tolerance" policy against offenders actually worked in that violent city. Why wouldn't a stiff policy toward litterbugs work in Citrus County?
One spokesman said that Judge Michael Blackstone recently expressed his intention to put delinquent or truant youngsters to work on litter patrol. We do not know whether this has begun.
Boy Scout troops would be ideal in helping to clean up the problem, and this would bring to the attention of all that it is everyone's job to pitch in and clean up our communal areas.
Teenagers in church groups might consider keeping the area around their churches free of litter. It would be good to look beyond the immediate borders of one's property. Picking up in the lot next door would be helpful. Even better, why not walk across the road and pick up the boxes and paper cups over there, before the mowers rip them to shreds and make the problem worse?
All residents need to be more conscious of keeping our properties cleaned up. Again, that means looking at the empty lot on either side, or the patch across the road. We who drive by regularly are amazed that residents don't want to clean up their front yards. The homeowner looks out on that same bag or box or beer bottle day after day. Wouldn't it be better to just go out and pick it up?
Senior walkers have a great opportunity to "adopt-a-patch" in our morning walks. My husband and I had to spend three days picking up months worth of stuff. Now we only need to pick up the occasional box or bag to keep our adopted area litter-free, and we're so proud of it.
Somewhere in all this we must direct a word to the county department ultimately responsible for litter on county roads. The Adopt-A-Road scheme is a joke. One spokesman defended the project by saying, "Well, we're running through the list of groups to find out whether they still want to be on it. . . ." That's just not what I observed. No one I contacted had been approached to see if they still wished to be listed on the signs. The spokesperson also explained that each group mentioned agreed to pick up twice a year. Twice a year? Twice a month isn't sufficient to keep roadsides clear of the handiwork of some slobs.
I hope readers won't reach for pen and paper to voice their agreement with this. Reach instead for a plastic bag and go out and adopt your own small patch to clean. Just a few minutes a day could make all the difference to the landscape of Citrus County. It's everyone's job!
_ V.G. Harley lives in Beverly Hills. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.