| By Billy Davis
The countryside is awash in junky yards and trash-strewn roadways.
A solid waste enforcement officer works to nab the illegal dumpers, but a court fine requires an eyewitness to the misdemeanor crime. And, of course, he can’t be everywhere at once.
At least one neighbor routinely burns tires in his yard, neighbors say, choking them with the thick smoke.
This conversation over litter and junk is going on…right next door in Lafayette County.
Lafayette County’s litter plight was the subject of a May 21 story in the Northeast Miss. Daily Journal, the Tupelo daily newspaper, in a story written by Errol Castens.
"In fast-growing Lafayette County," Castens writes, "the juxtaposition of litter with luxury and old tires with new money is common."
Lafayette’s story is similar to other counties in Mississippi, where roadside litter is 30 percent above the national average, according to a Web site maintained by the Miss. Department of Transportation.
Enter the Panola County Board of Supervisors, which has a copy of Wayne County’s ordinance in hand after solid waste manager Dean Joiner presented it to the board May 1.
While Wayne County adopted and is using the ordinance, Lafayette and Bolivar counties are "looking at" the ordinance, Joiner told supervisors during the meeting.
If supervisors pass the ordinance, they would put teeth to the litter problem with new regulations, enforcement and fines, but the issue could backfire on the board politically if voters disapprove.
The proposed ordinance allows great flexibility for prosecuting illegal dumpers, but it would also permit the county to crack down on "junky" private property by fining landowners if they fail to clean up their property.
"You’ve got to do what the majority wants or you don’t stay around, and the majority are saying, ?Leave us alone,’" said District Four Supervisor Jerry Perkins, who told The Panolian about the Daily Journal story during a phone interview.
According to District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, the board of supervisors plans to take a closer look at the ordinance and will likely approve at least some parts of it.
"We won’t pass something just to put it on paper because we don’t want to have to come back to it later," Avant said. "It will probably take a little time for us to sit around a table and talk."
Asked if supervisors felt "cornered" to take action with the ordinance, Avant said he didn’t have such feelings.
"This is something that’s needed," Avant said. "The majority (of the board) feels like something needs to be done."
The topic of adopting a litter ordinance is new territory for the board of supervisors, Avant said. He cited the topic as an example that the board is slowly evolving beyond its traditional role as overseers of county roads and bridges.
"We’re slowly moving beyond that point," Avant said. "Economic development, for example, is starting to be an issue as time passes."
District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup said constituents he has talked to support a crackdown on illegal dumping.
"Everybody I talk to says we need to do something about it," Waldrup said. "Folks are saying these people need to be held accountable."
Waldrup said he’s heard no feedback about the private property issue, however, though he agreed that three-fourths of District 5 is located inside the Batesville city limits, which is already governed by a code enforcement office.
Regarding a crackdown on illegal dumpers, Avant said the presumption of guilt when a person’s name is found in a trash bag is "a little tough."
"You’re assuming that person is guilty when they should be presumed innocent," Avant said. "To me that’s a reverse of the law."
Waldrup said he supports the illegal dumping language as-is in the ordinance, calling it "common sense."
"Nobody’s going to get Bubba Waldrup’s garbage and throw it on Vance Bottom Road," Waldrup said.
Regarding a future crackdown on private property, Avant said he believes the county shouldn’t dictate what is allowed on private property.
Avant acknowledged that he himself has had several "junk" cars on his own property but said any vehicles at his home are currently running.
If supervisors approve the controversial crackdown on private property, automobiles, appliances and other similar items would be affected by the new regulation.