Officials plan to rekindle anti-litter campaign

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Local leaders admit that efforts to combat litter have stalled in recent months.

Local officials and civic leaders hope plans to join the national Keep America Beautiful organization will spark a renewed effort to combat litter.

The effort comes as local leaders admit that efforts to combat litter stalled in recent months.

Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf Coast and the national recovery efforts drew the attention of the public and local officials away from the anti-litter effort, Mayor Jay Knudtson said.

"Clearly we have been distracted," Knudtson said. "The world stopped for three weeks."

Knudtson said it's time to rekindle the anti-litter campaign.

Joining Keep America Beautiful could provide the spark, local leaders say.

Cape Girardeau County Auditor David Ludwig is leading the effort to form a local group that would affiliate with the Keep America Beautiful organization.

Founded in 1953, Keep America Beautiful is the nation's largest not-for-profit community improvement and educational organization. It focuses on litter prevention, beautification and waste reduction.

Keep America Beautiful has a national network of more than 500 affiliates and hundreds more participating organizations.

Membership costs $3,500 initially. He and a handful of other Cape Girardeau and Jackson civic leaders are working to raise the money. Some donations and pledges have been made by local civic and chamber groups.

Maybe next year

Affiliation with the national organization could occur next year, Ludwig said.

Maintaining the membership would cost about $300 each year.

"I think a lot of good can come from the program," Ludwig said.

The Keep America Beautiful staff would visit the area and offer cleanup and beautification suggestions. Ludwig said improvements could include landscaping intersections and the main entrances to the cities.

Keep America Beautiful also has programs targeted at educating schoolchildren in how they can improve the environment.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said affiliating with Keep America Beautiful could help sustain the local anti-litter campaign.

Cape Girardeau Councilwoman Loretta Schneider is among those working with Ludwig. Schneider said the goal is to establish a permanent anti-litter organization.

Ludwig said cleanup and beautification efforts would benefit the entire area. Tidy communities are good for tourism and help attract industry, he said. "People want to see a clean environment."

Litter also costs taxpayers. The state spends $6 million a year to pick up trash along state-maintained highways.

Local officials and civic leaders organized an anti-litter campaign earlier this year. Members of the Cape Girardeau City Council and Jackson Board of Aldermen picked up trash at Center Junction.

Cape Girardeau police enlisted city prisoners to help clean up trash in some neighborhoods.

Knudtson and Sander challenged their communities to reduce litter in the area by July 4.

Knudtson said the efforts paid off, but more needs to be done.

"Typically we build momentum, and all of a sudden we achieve a goal and we forget about it," he said. "I think it is incumbent upon all of us to keep this fire burning."

A committee of local officials and civic leaders set up to spearhead the anti-litter effort hasn't met for the past few months. That has stalled efforts to target motorists who throw trash out of their cars.

A group of area law enforcement officers months ago suggested establishing a hotline where people could report littering incidents and license-plate numbers.

Police then would identify the owners of those vehicles and send them a form letter. The letter would indicate that a complaint had been made and encourage the individual to stop littering.

Cape Girardeau police Capt. Carl Kinnison, who takes over as the city's new police chief in a week, was among the officers who suggested the anti-litter letters.

Kinnison said it's up to the anti-litter committee to decide whether to implement the letter-writing campaign.

Both Knudtson and Sander said the committee needs to reconvene soon.

City spokeswoman Tracey Glenn, who chairs the committee, said she hopes to schedule a meeting of the committee later this month.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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