LUMBERTON — Although a banquet to kick of a third year of an effort to beautify Robeson County drew a smaller-than-expected crowd, the enthusiasm for leveling the mountains of trash along Robeson County’s roadsides was not diminished.
About 250 community leaders attended the event Tuesday evening at the Southeastern North Carolina Agriculture Event Center and took home a message of hope and urgency from a series of speakers, including Commissioner Raymond Cummings, chairman of the Clean & Green Committee.
“When we started this project, there was great frustration expressed,” Cummings said. “Change is what we expect in our county, and it starts right here with us.”
The Clean & Green message will be pushed into the public schools, Cummings said. Enforcement and boosting the adopt-a-highway program are priorities.
Committee member Ron Ouelette was presented the Clean & Green Stewardship Award. He is director of operations for local McDonald’s restaurants owned by the Rust family.
Keynote speaker Steve Yost, director of North Carolina Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, drove home the link between economic development and community appearance. He has 23 years of experience recruiting business and industry to Southeastern North Carolina.
Yost suggested a focus on litter around community gateways and around potential industrial sites. He also suggested an emphasis on eliminating dilapidated buildings.
“Appearance is really, really critical to our ability to market your community to prospects,” Yost said. “There is nothing more disheartening than escorting a prospect around after a rain when the litter is floating in ditches.”
Nila Chamberlain, Clean & Green committee member, said the litter program is a natural extension of her work she does with the Robeson County Arts Council.
“Litter is a moral choice,” Chamberlain said. “We’ve got to stop talking trash about Robeson County.”
Committee member Richard Monroe noted there are 930 roads in Robeson County with 1,721 miles of roadway. The challenge of keeping so many roads free of litter is daunting, and he estimated that more than 15 million pieces of trash would pile up along the county roads within one year without intervention.
“Something needs to be done and it starts with you and me,” he said. “There is a pledge in your packet. Sign it.”
The event killed off the third year of the Clean and Green Committee, which was established in 2015 with Cummings as the impetus. The effort has include awareness, stepped-up enforcement of litter laws, and well as outreach in trying to get people to adopt roads and to keep them clean.
Committee members sent hundreds of letters in advance of Tuesday’s event to churches, schools and businesses encouraging representatives to attend. They were fed a meal prepared by Candy Sue’s.
Kristina Cummings is Robeson County’s recycling coordinator and coordinator of Clean and Green’s projects. Anyone interested in pitching in the effort, can contact her by call 910-865-3348 or or 910-734-7569. The Department of Transportation will provide vests and trash bag for people who organize groups for roadside cleanup.
Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-416-5649.