LUMBERTON — A program to have people sentenced to community service pick up litter along Robeson County’s roads is looking for some traction.
The county government’s six-month trial program started Monday, said Gene Walters, Solid Waste Department assistant director. No one had signed up for the program by the end of the day on Tuesday, and Walters could not be reached Friday to see if that had changed.
“We’re trying to explore avenues to get this litter cleaned up,” Walters said Wednesday.
The program, which ends Sept. 7, only targets secondary roads, he said. The state has contracted out the job of removing litter from along major highways, such as Interstate 95.
There are 1,375 miles of secondary roads in Robeson County, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“I know it’s a long-shot,” Walters said. “It’s an avenue we’re trying to explore to get the trash alongside our roadways cleaned up.”
The county also is exploring other avenues, he said, but didn’t elaborate.
The program became necessary when state lawmakers stopped providing prison inmates to pick up litter.
“June 30 was the last day of an inmate litter crew on the highways,” said Jerry Higgins, Communications officer for the state Department of Public Safety.
Lawmakers thought it would be more economical to allow private companies to bid on highway litter-removal jobs, he said.
Inmate litter crews started out as roads squads, also known as chain gangs, that were tasked to build roads, clear ditches, remove brush and perform other roadway maintenance jobs, Higgins said. The crews were reassigned to light roadway maintenance in 1980.
“That’s when they started the inmate litter crews,” Higgins said.
There are 361 people sentenced to community service in Robeson County, said Truman Raines, Judicial District manager for the state Department of Public Safety. Where and when those people perform that service is determined by a community service coordinator, the agency requesting help and the probationer.
The coordinator tries to link probationers with agencies that have enough work that will allow the probationer to fill his or her community service hours as quickly as possible, Raines said. The coordinator also tries to meet the agencies’ work criteria. One agency may not want a person convicted of robbery or drug use. Another may be looking for someone with a specific skill set.
Some probationers may have full-time jobs, Raines said. In that case, the coordinator must find a service job that accommodates the work schedule.
The Robeson County Clean and Green Committee is doing its part by coordinating litter pick-up events and educating residents, said Raymond Cummings, committee chairman and Robeson County Board of Commissioners chairman.
The committee’s efforts are producing results. Volunteers collected 47.33 tons of trash in 2015. In 2016, 75.52 tons was collected, 127.56 tons between August 2016 and January 2017; and 222.10 tons between February 2017 and January 2018.
The committee is making available free litter bags that people can hang from a vehicle turn signal arm.
“They can be picked up at any waste collection site,” Cummings said.
The committee also helps make available bags and reflective vests for use by groups picking up litter, including those in the Adopt-A-Highway anti-litter program, he said.
The bags and vest can be requested by calling 910-865-3348, Cummings said. Once the litter is bagged, a group representative can call 910-618-5543 to have the NC DOT collect the bags and take them to the county landfill.
“There are about 65 groups in Robeson County that have adopted a highway,” Cummings said.
The committee is organizing its annual Clean Sweep campaign, he said. It is scheduled for April 14-28.
“We’re making a difference because you can see we’re picking up the trash,” Cummings said. “But it can be hard to tell because people keep throwing it out.”
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]