Selectmen discuss litter ordinance
Litter poses more than environmental problems, says First Selectman Bill Brennan, its appearance is a visual blight on the town as well. In looking to curb the appearance of fast food wrappers and Gatorade bottles on the side of Wilton roads, the Board of Selectmen discussed the potential addition of a litter ordinance to town regulations at its meeting on Monday, July 1.
The inspiration for this discussion came from a vacation Mr. Brennan took in Oregon, where he noticed two things about the landscape; there were many signs threatening potential litterbugs with $1,000 fines, and there “wasn’t much litter” in Oregon, he said.
“I was rather surprised to find that Connecticut — a state that has the highest tax burden in the nation — has one of the lowest fines for littering in the nation,” Mr. Brennan said. “It’s only up to $199 for littering or dumping. If you look at the fines across the country, this is very low.”
Making the state’s litter regulations increasingly surprising, Mr. Brennan said, was the fine applies to both dumping (on private land), and littering on public property.
“A contractor does a job on someone’s bathroom, and he has all the tiles from that job, and he dumps it in the woods on someone’s property, that is dumping. That’s the same $199 dollar fine, which to me, is a bit low.”
Selectman Hal Clark also expressed interest in the fact that the kind of litter someone throws out does not warrant a different fine.
“There’s no differentiation between someone throwing a fast food wrapper out their window, and someone who throws out half a can of motor oil in town where everyone has wells.”
The town of Wilton itself does not have a litter ordinance, and relies on state statutes to prosecute any litterbugs. There are no signs in town threatening a fine for littering, and all five selectman noted that just weeks after the annual Clean Up Wilton service day, the major roadways are already accumulating garbage.
“What we all expressed as a board last time was our own personal experience picking up garbage on Clean Up Wilton Day when we all try and get out and help with that,” Mr. Brennan said. There’s an increase in “the amount of litter thrown on Route 33, or Route 7 a few days after we do pick it all up, the fast food and bottles and cans are back. This isn’t just high school kids getting rid of the evidence.”
There is also a commercial dumping problem in Wilton, Mr. Brennan said.
“Up on Nod Hill Road, [a little while ago,] a couple neighbors said there’s a big pile of waste from some construction site,” Mr. Brennan said. “There was just a big pile of junk that someone had dumped right on someone’s personal property. We can pick it up on a town right of way, but we can’t go onto someone’s personal property without permission. There are half-a-dozen other stories of fly-by-night contractors who just don’t want to pay a drop fee at a transfer station.”
Neighboring communities, Mr. Brennan reported, levy additional fines over the state statute for littering in their towns. He and the board expressed interest in an increased fine, perhaps in the style of Trumbull, which charges $50 for each day litter or dumped material is left in public.
“Fairfield has a large littering sign up by the Merritt Parkway,” Selectman Ted Hoffstatter said, “Its $300. You really notice it.”
These fines are important, not just to discourage litterbugs, but also to help pay the costs associated with cleaning up litter, Mr. Brennan said.
Mr. Hoffstatter referenced the recent dumping of sewage waste at Toozy Patza Pizza, as further evidence for the need to increase awareness of litter problems in town.
Mr. Brennan continued to say it was important for the board to figure out whether an increased fine would have an affect on littering behavior in the town, whether it was possible to raise awareness without a new ordinance.
Mr. Brennan said, “if there is anyway we can get a focus on litter in the town — maybe outside of an ordinance. I don’t want to make this a little Switzerland with too many ordinances — this litter thing can be really annoying when you see it along our beautiful roadways, especially when you see it thrown out by people other than those from Wilton.”
One foreseeable conversation, Selectman Jim Saxe noted, was with the Wilton police. Both he and Mr. Brennan worried that asking police officers to be on an increased lookout for litterbugs may require them to divert attention away other police activities.
The Board of Selectman will continue discussion on a litter ordinance at their next meeting, on July 15, and will welcome public comment at that time.