Last updated: April 18. 2014 5:22AM - 909 Views
Dwight Williamson For Civitas Media

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The Appalachian Mountains are considered some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Anywhere one goes in West Virginia the splendor of the mountain state is best represented by its hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and streams. Unfortunately, it may be that many of us take them for granted.

American Heritage Dictionary defines a Mountaineer as “a native or inhabitant of a mountainous area.” It defines Hillbilly as “a person from the backwoods or a remote mountain area”. In southern West Virginia, both definitions generally apply, although some outsiders like to use the terms in a negative way. As a “born and bred” Logan Countian, I am proud to claim both descriptions.

However, the problem of littering is one negative aspect the area faces. People visiting here, whether former residents here for reunions, trail riders, or just visitors, often comment about the beauty of the hills and wonder why some residents of the area litter so much.

A group of local House of Delegate members sponsored House Bill 4014 which passed in the House 97-0 January 20, 2014, with three delegates absent. The bill was introduced in the Senate on January 21 and reportedly died there in the Judiciary Committee. Area delegates who sponsored the bill were: Rupie Phillips and Ted Tomblin representing Logan County, Justin Marcum and Harry Keith White of Mingo, Josh Barker of Boone, Jeff Eldridge of Lincoln. Michael Ferro of Marshall, Phil Diserio of Brooke, Richard Iaquinta of Harrison and Doug Scalf Jr. of Kanawha also were sponsors.

Marion County delegate Tim Manchin, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was vocal about the bill and said that current fines “are not significant enough.” He added that the committee wanted to focus on littering “so that West Virginia’s natural beauty can remain untarnished by waste.”

Local delegates have said they intend to address the matter again in the future. The bill would have amended the definition of litter and increased penalties for littering dramatically.

Perhaps if the public knew what the current criminal penalties are it would be discouraging enough for those guilty to not continue to reflect their uncaringness upon the respectable citizens of the area who do obey the law. One might be surprised at the severity of the laws as currently written.

22-15A-4 of the West Virginia Code addresses “unlawful disposal of litter”. It is clear and reads as follows: No person shall place, deposit, dump, throw or cause to be placed, deposited, dumped or thrown any litter in or upon any public or private highway, road, street or alley; any private property; any public property; or the waters of the state within one hundred feet of the waters of this state, except in a proper litter or other waste receptacle.

To paraphrase the code section, any person who violates this law by littering anything weighing less than one hundred pounds is subject to a fine of $100 to $1000 and in addition to the mandatory $160.25 court cost also must pay a $200 civil penalty. Also, the violator, at the judicial official’s discretion, can be ordered to public community service picking up litter for not less than eight nor more than sixteen hours. In other words, something as simple as discarding a cigarette butt can cost a person a minimum of $410.25 in fines and costs and can be 8-16 hours of embarrassing work.

Any violator who litters anything weighing more than one hundred pounds but less than five hundred pounds is looking at a minimum fine of a $1000 up to $2000 and $160.25 courts costs, and the $200 civil penalty. Also, that violator can be sentenced to 16 to 32 hours of community service. Anyone depositing litter of a weight greater than five hundred pounds will be fined from $2500 to $25,000 or placed in jail for up to one year, or both. If a person is found guilty of creating an open dump, the guilty party faces even more severe penalties.

It would appear these penalties would be sufficient to deter the litter problem. It leaves one to believe that some violators simply don’t care. Many more warning signs across the county would probably help by reminding people of the penalties. It seems to work well in other cleaner states.

It is difficult for law enforcement to catch violators in the act. Sometimes people are given warnings, and if the property gets cleaned up, no citation or arrest will follow. That appears fair enough, but for those blatant litters who think it is acceptable to discard whatever they want out their vehicle windows — well, how do you spell “Maximum”?

Logan County, like all of West Virginia, can be made a better place to visit and live. Inmates from the local jail are currently in Guyan District picking up litter even today. Unfortunately, in a month or two the same area will need visited again for the same reason.

First, at home, then perhaps at the schools, emphasis needs placed on the menacing problem. Then, we all just need to do our jobs.

Quoting Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote in 1789: “The execution of the laws is more important than the making of the laws.”

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