Prince George’s County officials plan to aggressively tackle a dirty problem: litter.
“Litter is the bane of Prince George’s County’s existence,” said Sarah Cavitt of Fort Washington and president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council. “We never understand why people keep using us as dumping ground. We need to all step up to the plate and stop littering.”
An unofficial start to the anti-litter campaign begins Saturday, May 1 during a countywide “Growing Green With Pride” event.
At least three dozen municipalities and community groups registered at the website for the county’s, Growing Green with Pride, to remove trash, lay down mulch around trees and other beautification efforts.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks recently acknowledged how some “pissed off” residents communicated their frustration seeing trash along highways such as Routes 5, 202 and 214. However, those are state roads and maintained by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA).
Fewer state and county road crews couldn’t work during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, but more people are slated to come back outside and catch litterbugs.
“So please help me tell Lottie, Dottie and everybody: If the road has a number on it, it’s not a county road,” Alsobrooks said. “So for those who have called and fussed at me about the whole thing, we’re working with the state because it does require a partnership.”
MDOT hasn’t been able to send crews out for more than a year due to the pandemic, a spokesperson said in an email Friday, April 23. The agency relies on “labor crews” from the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to remove litter.
Some crews have started to come out in March by removing 3,956 bags of litter, or 103 tons. Also last month, crews removed 914 tires from state roads.
Residents can go to the MDOT customer service link (https://marylandsha.secure.force.com/customercare/request_for_service) to notify the agency when they see litter on state highways.
“It will take some time before DPSCS is able to send full crews, but we’re hopeful that we will be able to make noticeable improvement to roadside litter levels very soon,” according to the spokesperson.
Judy Allen-Leventhal, president of the Greater Accokeek Civic Association, said state officials spoke with her group in October on ideas to upkeep Route 210, also known as Indian Head Highway.
However, Allen-Leventhal and other residents wonder why some state highways such as Route 1 in the northern part of Prince George’s and Route 301 in neighboring Charles County appear to look better.
“We don’t get that. It’s a real query,” she said. “We are continuing to work with the powers that be. However, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Sights Set on Litterbugs
In the meantime, Tiaa Rutherford will serve as a “litter czar” to lead a task force to not only stop littering and illegal dumping, but also educate residents on why picking up clutter matters.
The first task force meeting could be next month to assess what neighboring jurisdictions and states are doing to combat litter, a reference guide for county ordinances and state statutes and a communications campaign with county agencies.
A long-term goal will be running a dashboard and interactive maps for residents to see vehicles along routes picking up trash. The task force will also recommend state legislation for lawmakers to approve in Annapolis.
Rutherford, who works as a litter reduction program manager for the county’s Department of Environment, said those caught tossing items such as tires, mattresses and other unwanted items could face a fine between $1,000 to $30,000.
A state could impose a separate fine if a certain number of tires, or waste gets dumped near a stream or creek.
“It is an environmental crime to illegally dump,” Rutherford said.
About six cases are pending review in the county state’s attorney’s office after mobile cameras caught the alleged offenders throwing away debris.
The county currently has seven cameras with the plan to purchase three more.
“There are mobile cameras near illegal dumping hot spots. We don’t tell people where they are because we don’t want to let people know where they are,” said Deputy Chief of Staff John Erzen. “Once the courts get back to running in full speed, we can get this going. We hope people get…fined to show people we are serious.”