WWALS calls for city trash reforms –Valdosta Daily Times 2023-03-09

Update 2023-03-29: Valdosta Creek Trash Tour 2023-03-29.

Come to Two Mile Branch Saturday, March 25, 2023, see the trash problem for yourself, and talk to many of the people mentioned in this article.

Malia Thomas, Valdosta Daily Times, March 9, 2023 , Group calls for city trash reforms,

VALDOSTA — In the WWALS Watershed Coalition’s eyes, the city needs to clean up its act.

[Sugar Creek Beach, trash, WaterGoat trash trap, Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson, Suwannee Riverkeeper]
Sugar Creek Beach, trash, WaterGoat trash trap, Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson, Suwannee Riverkeeper

John Quarterman, Suwannee [R]iverkeeper of WWALS, and Bobby McKenzie, [former] WWALS intern, have expressed concern over trash pile ups in the city’s waterways, particularly in Sugar Creek.

[Green ball trash, 2022-01-23, 11:58:12, 30.8632783, -83.3190173]
Green ball trash, 2022-01-23, 11:58:12, 30.8632783, -83.3190173

“Sugar Creek itself could be a recreational asset for the city, at least from Baytree Road to the Withlacoochee River, with sand beaches, willow and sycamore trees and a long stretch of right bank owned by Valdosta above Gornto Road, plus Bland Park backs up from Park Lane to the creek. Many other cities make parks of their creeks and rivers, with hiking and biking trails, picnic tables and boating facilities,” Quarterman said.

[Sugar Creek Beach, 09:54:45, 30.8571165, -83.3162398]
Sugar Creek Beach, 2021-07-10, 09:54:45, 30.8571165, -83.3162398

While WWAL[S] has been making a push toward trash solutions since September of last year [actually, since April 2020], Valdosta Public Works identified the public health problem the debris creates back in its 2010 Stormwater Master Plan:

“Streams are a natural attractor for children and play structures occur along the stream edge. The pollution in this stream poses a serious risk of disease and injury and children should be strongly discouraged from playing in the stream until the trash and sewage are eliminated.”

[Figure 3.3.14. Garbage Rafts Upstream of Log Jams]
Figure 3.3.14. Garbage Rafts Upstream of Log Jams in Valdosta 2010 Stormwater Master Plan

Quarterman said while cleanups are a step in the right direction, they don’t solve the problem.

[Russell waist-deep in the trash]
Russell waist-deep in the trash

“The cleanups are fun and they do help, but WWALS is going upstream to try to stop trash at its sources: businesses that let trash escape their parking lots, and the companies that make all that single-use packaging. The city could be doing more: trash traps, trash cans, and enforcing the code on their books,” he said.

[Solid waste management hierarchy]
Solid waste management hierarchy

Several existing city ordinances help establish a litter reduction playbook for Valdosta.

Ordinances claim commercial property that fails to maintain a private property detention pond and grounds free from litter, and that litter washed down the stormwater and into a creek or river, then that property owner, tenant or lessee would not only be responsible for the violation, fine, cleaning of their own private property, but also the area where the litter is found.

There is an appellate process and any business found in violation can be denied a business license or have its existing one revoked, which Quarterman said would be a more proactive and effective approach.

“The litter problem became sufficiently severe in 2018 that the Valdosta chief of police issued a department-wide memorandum informing all law enforcement officers to aggressively issue citations to those citizens they find littering. Such aggressive targeting of the average citizen is justifiable and should continue due to the scope of the problem,” he said. “But why should enforcement be limited to individual citizens? Valdosta has already established that ‘person’ also means commercial business and property owners. If these locations are reported to the city marshal or other applicable agency, shouldn’t they also be aggressively cited as well?”

For their part, city officials said the city has identified problem waterways for trash pile ups and is taking a more proactive approach.

Ben O’Dowd, city engineer, said the city has been targeting Sugar Creek and Three Mile Branch for trash traps.

[Neighbor Jan Powell, City Engineer Benjamin O'Dowd, Stormwater Manager Angela Bray, Two Mile Branch @ Berkley Drive]
Neighbor Jan Powell, City Engineer Benjamin O’Dowd, Stormwater Manager Angela Bray, Two Mile Branch @ Berkley Drive

“We’ve identified a series of reaches. … Right now the immediate goal is to be the Withlacoochee,” he said. “So we’ve got a series of reaches that kind of run through and meander through the City of Valdosta and then they drain out immediately into the Withlacoochee. and so we’re targeting those right now. So some of those waterways are Three Mile Branch, Two Mile Branch and then Sugar Creek, and Sugar Creek actually receives the water from One Mile Branch as well. So those are the three that we’re looking at right now.

He added there is a floating trash trap on Sugar Creek and it is scheduled to be upgraded March 30.

O’Dowd said while city staff focuses on cleanups, the city works to hold litterers accountable.

“We’ve got an annual cleanup. Public Works does a really good job of hosting a monthly Love Where You Live hotspot cleanup in different areas around the city or basically, citizens are encouraged to come out and help assist city staff and clean up portions of their neighborhood,” he said.

“We’ve also got several regional stormwater facilities that we own and maintain that whenever the folks that go out there, they’re instructed to remove trash as well. So we’re taking quite a bit of effort to try and intercept this litter before it gets anywhere near the waterways.”

Quarterman said WWALS will continue to fight the city trash issues by continuing cleanups, sending out grant applications for trash traps and pushing for more code enforcement from the city.

“Cleanups and trash traps will always be useful. But solving the litter problem requires a proactive solution including upstream education, enforcement and financial participation by the businesses that need to stop litter from exiting their property. Such businesses would gain positive publicity by participating, as would the City of Valdosta, in addition to improved quality of life,” he said.

Here is Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson surveying trash in a parking lot on St. Augustine Road at Hightower Creek:

[Movie: The Mayor does not like the trash (165M)]
Movie: The Mayor does not like the trash (165M)

Mr. Mayor and City Council, that was in December. Three months later, what’s the plan to enforce city ordinances?

For much more about the trash situation, see: https://wwals.net/issues/trash

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!