By Jeff Poole
Anyone thinking about dumping trash along Orange County’s roadways may want to reconsider after a new ordinance elevates penalties for littering.
Following a public hearing last month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to its solid waste ordinance aimed at cleaning up county roadsides and punishing those who litter.
The new ordinance specifically targets trash tossed or dumped from vehicles, making those crimes misdemeanors punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a minimum fine of $1,000, a maximum fine of $2,500, or community service to pick up roadside trash.
The board first addressed the apparent increase in trash in March.
“It may be anecdotal, but it seems to me that it’s gotten a lot worse lately,” District 1 Supervisor Mark Johnson said referencing roadside litter at a March board meeting. “Folks are starting to talk to me about it and they make some very good points. We spend a lot of money on tourism and facilitating agritourism and it’s a bad deal for people to drive here and see trash up and down the road. There’s probably trash up and down the road on their way here, but if we are their destination or we’d like them to stop and spend a few hours, it seems to me that it’d behoove us to address the issue.”
The ordinance’s language reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to dump or otherwise dispose of trash, garbage, refuse, litter, a companion animal for the purpose of disposal, or other unsightly matter, on public property, including a public highway, right-of-way, property adjacent to such highway or right-of-way, or on private property without the written consent of the owner thereof or his agent.”
Additionally, county attorney Tom Lacheney noted, the ordinance includes a provision that essentially says, “If trash flies out of a vehicle, and we get the license plate, it’s a legal presumption the owner of the vehicle dumped that trash and they’ve got to prove they didn’t. How do you prove you didn’t do something?”
Lacheney said since the proposed ordinance was first reported, he’d received a number of calls from other county attorneys inquiring about the county’s approach to the problem.
“This is a statewide problem and they’re all struggling with the same thing,” he told the board.
District 3 Supervisor Keith Marshall said he doubted anyone would serve up to 12 months in jail for littering, but suggested the ordinance read, “not less than one day.”
“We can’t force the judge to put anyone in jail, but that’s why we included the provision that the court may order the defendant community service,” Lacheney said. “The court could put them on the side of the road cleaning up trash. That may be a more effective deterrent than anything else, having people spending 10 or 12 hours on the side of our highways cleaning up the trash.”
At the June 22 public hearing, a dozen citizens submitted letters of support for the proposed ordinance and one resident spoke in-person encouraging its adoption.
“This has bothered me for a long time,” Orange resident Kathy Thorpe said. “There are a lot of people who say we don’t have a litter problem, and it’s easy to overlook if you’re a driver, you wouldn’t see it because you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
But Thorpe said she sees plenty of evidence of the trash the three or four times she picks up trash along her property along Monrovia Road. She said she gets between seven and eight bags full of garbage each time. She said about 75% of it is alcohol-related, with the balance being smoking-related, fast food trash or household garbage.
“Trash begets trash. People see it and think they’ll just throw their trash out of the window,” Thorpe said. “I feel blessed to live in a beautiful place like this. I think we should keep it as beautiful as possible and do what we can to present a good image to people traveling through.”
Those who wrote letters supporting the ordinance share similar experiences—most citing first-hand experience cleaning up trash in front of their own properties.
Mark and Ann Kington, of Orange, wrote in support of the ordinance and encouraged the county to “own the problem” with proactive solutions to pick up litter.
“We regularly pick up along our property …so we well know the serious problem we have with litter in Orange County. Increased penalties are a step in the right direction, but of course no one is likely to see most acts of littering. We try to own the problem and pick up, and I would suggest that the county take the same approach—be proactive in funding programs that actually pick up the litter. We live in a beautiful place but it is embarrassing that we allow litter and trash to mar the roadsides,” they wrote.
“We at The Inn at Willow Grove heartily agree [with the ordinance],” David Scibal wrote. “Make it $5,000 minimum. We clean along Route 15 on a daily basis. It would be nice if we only had to do this weekly.”
Cynthia Whitman, of Rapidan Road, said walking or bicyle riding along county roads offers a closer look at the roadside litter problem.
“My husband and I have picked up trash for 15 years on our property along Rapidan Road. The constant chore and the perceived disregard for the land and the property owners by those who litter is discouraging,” she wrote. “Anything one might eject from an automobile is included in the roadside debris and beer containers abound. Apparently, many people drink and drive! Discarded food items attract animals which puts them at risk. Other concerns are tires, television sets, water heaters and furnishings dumped along the back roads for VDOT and landowners to deal with.
We set a bad example for our children when we litter and trash along the byways is an ugly presentation for tourists. ‘Keep America Beautiful’ and ‘Virginia Is For Lovers, Not Litter.’ ”
“At a time when the county is doing so much to encourage tourism, it makes sense to also discourage littering,” Julia Lyman wrote. “Visitors are drawn to Orange County by its beauty and nothing detracts more from that than debris along our byways. Moreover, studies have shown that litter encourages more littering.”
Rapidan resident Bob Wilbanks submitted a photo of the volume of trash he and his family have collected in front of their Rapidan Road property.
Others supporting the ordinance encouraged more aggressive efforts to prosecute offenders to send the message littering will not be tolerated.
Somerset residents Mark and Jasmine Warren asked when the last time someone was arrested or prosecuted for littering and encouraged the sheriff’s office and commonwealth’s attorney to “redouble their efforts to enforce the ordinance.”
Rapidan resident Gregory May wrote, “It will be essential to publicize the tougher penalties and the favorable result of a few prosecutions. People who drop litter will continue to make litter of the law unless the rest of us make them respect it.”