Planning commission begins effort to solve litter problem

Published 12:53 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Southampton County Planning Commission is looking to kick off a united community effort at its July 14 meeting to solve the problem of litter along the roadways and ditches in the county.

Community Development Director Beth Lewis noted that the Planning Commission has invited the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office and members of the Litter Control Council to act as a core group to energize the community to solve the problem.

This initial discussion with this core group will last for about 30 minutes toward the beginning of the commission’s meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Southampton County Office Center Board Room, located at 26022 Administration Center Drive in Courtland. 

A public comment period immediately precedes the litter discussion on the meeting agenda.

“I think what (commissioners) want to do is rally the troops and have these organizations start thinking about a wider group reaching out into the community,” Lewis said. “The planning commission talked about groups like Ruritan clubs and church groups and other civic organizations, but they wanted to start with a core group of people to get the ball rolling.”

Explaining how the litter issue became a focus of the planning commission, Lewis noted that Southampton County Board of Supervisors meetings recently have featured citizens making known their issues with litter along the roadways.

“At the March meeting this year, the board of supervisors asked Supervisor (Christopher D.) Cornwell (Sr.) and Supervisor (Lynda T.) Updike to put together some sort of committee to help solve the litter problem,” Lewis said. “At the April meeting, the board of supervisors, again, was talking about litter, and it just seemed that the planning commission was finishing up work on the solar ordinance and Supervisor (Dr. Alan W.) Edwards made a comment that the planning commission did such a good job on the solar ordinance, ‘let’s get them working on litter.’”

Lewis stated that a motion was made that the board of supervisors wanted the planning commission to research and seek alternatives and methods to solve the litter issue in the county.

“Much of the litter in Southampton County is along the roadways and in the ditches, which is VDOT property,” Lewis said.

She indicated that the commission’s usual focus is largely on matters related to private property, not public property, “but the planning commission is always game for a new challenge.”

Lewis said she obtained a list from VDOT of all the Adopt-a-Highway groups and when they most recently reported to VDOT that they had picked up litter.

“(For) some of them, it was more than 10 years ago,” Lewis said. “They probably have picked up more recently than that, but it wasn’t in the reporting that we got, so the planning commission wanted a representative from VDOT to be there (July 14) to work on ways to revitalize the Adopt-a-Highway program, perhaps, if that seems to be working.”

She confirmed there will be a VDOT representative present and a sheriff’s office representative, along with a few members of the Litter Control Council, which has not met since just before the pandemic.

“At the planning commission’s last meeting, they got some information from other localities in Virginia that I provided and a report on litter from the Keep America Beautiful organization, and that had some ideas as well,” Lewis said. “So they have taken up the challenge from the board of supervisors to come up with some new ways to solve the litter problem.”

The commission will be interested in hearing from county residents about areas where litter tends to be concentrated.

“I think the citizens know of places that are more hard hit by litter than others, and I think that’s the kind of information that the planning commission is looking for so they can come up with a way to solve specific problems rather than looking at the county with a broad brush,” Lewis said. “Perhaps part of that is figuring out ways to stop the litter before it becomes litter, keep it from ending up as litter.”

She stated that the commission and the core group will likely encourage community groups, families, individuals and the Adopt-a-Highway groups to perform regular litter pick-ups.  

The commission and core group will look for information from the sheriff’s office and VDOT as to what they can do, Lewis said.

“They may look at changes to the county’s code to help stem the flow of litter,” she added. “They will certainly look to the incorporated towns for cooperation and assistance, as litter doesn’t know town-limit lines.”

She noted that there will be more in-depth meetings on litter to follow the initial July 14 discussion.

Lewis also took a moment to underscore why solving the litter problem is such an important issue.

“I think it’s an important issue because it seems to display how the residents of Southampton County feel about their home, and there are many, many people in Southampton County who have great pride in Southampton County, and it’s been their family’s home for generations, and it’s upsetting to them to see trash piled up along the roadways,” she said. “When they travel and go other places, they don’t see that. And they feel it makes a bad impression for people who are driving through on their way to somewhere else. They feel it makes a bad impression on people who may want to move their businesses here. But I think that a large number of people feel it’s a blow to civic pride to see litter just strewn along the roadways.”

She also noted that depending on where the litter is, much of it ends up in the nearby rivers.