W.Va. cracks down on littering

April 09, 2001

W.Va. cracks down on littering

By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer

The battle against litter in West Virginia will be reinforced by a bill recently signed by Gov. Bob Wise.

The bill, pushed by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and a group of Eastern Panhandle residents, strengthens penalties against littering. The penalties are based on the amount of litter dumped rather than on the number of times a person is caught dumping litter.

The bill provides civil penalties and fines attached to a misdemeanor conviction. Half the civil fines would be used in the county where the offense occurred.

The law also adds three points on a state resident's driver's license if a conviction is obtained.

"It's a major problem in the Eastern Panhandle," said Unger. "With this bill, we have the things in place to go after those individuals who trash our counties."


Despite volunteers who pick up litter from along roads, the state spends between $3 million to $5 million annually to clean up litter, said Clint Hogbin, chairman of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority.

He said the bill, the product of two sessions of the Legislature, is a big step forward in helping combat the problem.

"Maybe for the first time in West Virginia history, litter is being taken seriously," Hogbin said.

"It's a real strong law. I hope it will do some good," said Berkeley County Commissioner Robert Burkhart.

Hogbin said the penalties based on the amount dumped, which involve both fines and community service, are the strongest part of the bill.

Penalties for litter exceeding 500 pounds can include fines of between $2,500 and $25,000 and up to a year in jail or both. The civil penalty is set at between $100 and $1,000 per occurrence.

The previous law was ineffective as written, even if someone got caught once, Hogbin said. The penalties were fines based on the number of occurrences, and the fines increased as the occurrences increased.

"It was a very, very rare occurrence if anyone was caught a second time," he said.

Hogbin agreed that enforcing the new law will be a key. The state has only one officer in Berkeley County to do the work, he said.

Two "groundhog" cameras have been installed in Berkeley County locations where much littering occurs. They are motion-sensitive and hidden to catch people who don't know they are being watched.

Hogbin said the cameras, in place since Feb. 2, 2000, have led to the convictions of eight people. Seven of them pleaded guilty because they'd been caught on tape, he said. An eighth person pleaded guilty after the tape was shown in court, he said.

He said, however, "enforcement has traditionally been a problem in Berkeley County."

Money from civil penalties might be used to buy more cameras or to put up road signs along with the Adopt-A-Highway signs warning people areas are under surveillance by the cameras. He said the problem has several dimensions.

"This is not an environmental issue or a tourist issue. This is an economic development issue," Unger said. "When we bring individuals to our county, they judge us by the way we keep it up."

Wise vetoed the bill this year because of a technical problem. The Legislature re-passed it and he signed it.

"This is a strong bill," Wise said in Martinsburg last week. "I think it will do some good."


HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Makes picking up litter a mandatory penalty for littering.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Puts three points against a West Virginia resident's driver's license.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Fines anyone convicted of dumping less than 100 pounds of litter between $50 and $1,000 with eight to 16 hours of community service or both

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Fines anyone convicted of dumping between 100 and 500 pounds of litter between $500 and $2,500 with 16 to 32 hours of community service or both.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Fines anyone convicted of dumping more than 500 pounds between $2,500 and $25,000 with up to a year in jail or both.

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