Planners study resolution to clean up litter countywide

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR Staff
khelms@starhq.com

   Carter County residents can not only look forward to new stormwater regulations in the coming year, but also new regulations regarding litter control.
   During a session Tuesday afternoon that lasted more than two hours, members of the Carter County Planning Commission saw a presentation from Washington County Litter Control representatives on how that county has been dealing with overgrown, abandoned property and residences which have become a nuisance due to accumulated garbage and other waste.
   Mike Rutherford and Bobby Vance showed before-and-after pictures of residential property that Washington County had ordered cleaned up.
   "Sometimes people are so bogged down in their problems, they can't see what their neighbors see. Sometimes people just need a little help," Rutherford said.
   Rutherford and Vance spoke of one residence near the Appalachian Fairgrounds that had been abandoned and included a swimming pool and gazebo. The grounds were overgrown with weeds, and the pool was filled with trash and murky water. A county cleanup crew in a single day had restored the residence to its former beauty. The property was then sold.
   When the cleanup crew arrived, excited neighbors turned out at the crack of dawn. "From the sound of the first weed-eater being cranked up, neighbors were in the street offering sausage biscuits and all kinds of things," Rutherford said.
   Last year, Washington County Litter Control had a budget of $2,500 for cleanup. "We didn't spend any of their money last year," Rutherford said. "We spent all of it the year before."
   He attributed last year's success to the fact that Vance, the enforcement officer, keeps going back to ensure residents who are in violation of the litter ordinance comply with regulations. "We will get compliance on the property and we'll be there until we do," Rutherford said.
   Residents have 10 days after notification to get their house in order. If they make a good-faith effort but have not completed the job at the end of the 10 days, Washington County is good about granting a time extension.
   "We don't charge fines for violating," Rutherford said. "We just want it cleaned up."
   Rutherford advised Carter County planners to "go out here and sue your five or six serious violators" who do not attempt cleanup after being notified, and other county residents who are in violation will take note. "You'll get more areas cleaned up," he said.
   Following the presentation, Albert Teilhet presented county planners with a litter control resolution for their review and adoption. The resolution regulates "the storage of garbage, refuse, rubbish, and all other waste material on public or private property" and establishes rules and regulations for enforcement.
   The resolution would be enforced by a "Health and Safety Enforcement Officer," who would be either the director of Planning and Zoning or his designee. Also, a hearing board, which could be a subcommittee made up of county commissioners, would be designated and charged with the responsibility of actively recruiting community organizations, neighbors, churches or possibly jail inmates from the Carter County litter crew to assist citizens who are not financially able to provide self-compliance. The board also would hear and rule on disputed cases.
   Section III of the resolution sets property standards which county residents would be required to follow whether or not they live in zoned areas. According to the standards it would be unlawful "to create, maintain or allow to be maintained conditions on property that are dangerous or injurious to occupants of the property, occupants of neighboring property or other residents of the county, assuming ordinary health and sensibilities."
   Unlawful conditions would include:
   * The accumulation of litter or other defects that increase the hazards of fire, accidents, vacant dilapidated buildings or structures, unsanitary conditions, and/or other calamities;
   * The accumulation of litter, garbage, refuse and/or rubbish that endanger the health, safety or welfare of people living on the property and other citizens and/or create conditions for the infestation of rats and other harmful animals;
   * The obvious neglect and overgrowth of vines, grass, and/or underbrush that endanger the health, safety or welfare of people living on the property and other citizens, and/or create conditions for the infestation of rats and other harmful animals; and
   * It shall be unlawful for any owner of property to create, maintain or permit to be maintained any violation identified in subsections (1), (2) and/or (3) above to exist or continue on or around any building, structure or property affected by this resolution.
   County residents found in noncompliance would be given 30 days to clean up after receipt of a notice of violation or to request a hearing before the board. Failure to request a hearing within the time limit would constitute a waiver of residents' rights for a hearing.
   Because planners had not seen the resolution proposal before Tuesday, a steering committee made up of Ralph Watson, R.L. Miller, Lynn Tipton and Jerry Pearman was appointed to study the resolution. The steering committee will meet with County Planning Administrator Chris Schuettler at a 3 p.m. meeting March 17 to discuss the proposal, which would then be presented to the county commission for approval at its regularly scheduled meeting in April.
   If passed by the county commission, the new litter control regulations would go into effect immediately. One portion of the resolution, Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 5-1-115, relative to control of overgrown vegetation must be sent to Nashville for amendment by the General Assembly before enactment.
   As the resolution now stands, the provisions apply countywide, exclusive of incorporated municipalities within Carter County. The provisions do not apply to owner-occupied property unless the property is within 50 feet of a public highway. Once amended by the General Assembly, the resolution would be extended to owner-occupied property beyond 50 feet of a public highway upon approval by a two-thirds vote of the county commission.