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‘It’s people that just don’t care,’ Judge Adams says of county’s litter problem


Plastic bottles and fast-food line a ditch alongside KY Highway 1862, between Mayking and Thornton.

Plastic bottles and fast-food line a ditch alongside KY Highway 1862, between Mayking and Thornton.

In the early days of WMMT radio, program manager Jim Webb, in the on-air persona of Wiley Quixote, tilted daily at windmills.

It might be poor water conditions or people who were mean to the wild ducks that wander Whitesburg. But there was one particular windmill that Webb, who died in 2019, kept coming back to.

Litter.

And he did it often with a ballad written by Gene Ballou of Bill Moore Branch.

“Up in eastern Kentucky

Just as far as your eye can see

We got milk jugs floating down the rivers

And we got Pampers hanging in the trees”

Ballou, now 75, said recently that he had hoped he’d seen the last of the kind of litter that plagued the county up until the late 1990s. Unfortunately, he said the county is beginning to look a lot like it used to.

“If they’d go around here and write them tickets like they write speeding tickets, that would straighten some of these people up,” Ballou said.

He could be right, but statistics from the state Administrative Office of the Courts show there are few tickets for littering being written, and even fewer convictions.

A report from the courts shows there were 20 citations written for criminal littering in Letcher County between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2021. Of those, three were in Circuit Court — 2 in 2019, and one in 2021. All three were convicted. The sentences they received were not available.

Seventeen of the cases were in District Court, where five led to convictions and one led to indictment. Of the rest, nine were dismissed and two were diverted (meaning the accused received some sort of conditional release).

The county employs a litter warden, but Judge/Executive Terry Adams said littering charges are “hard to prosecute.” Unless they can find names in the trash, he said it’s difficult to prove who dumped it. Indeed, a prime example of the difficulty lies within sight of the gate to the county transfer station – used furniture, household garbage, tires and fast-food litter tossed on the side of Millstone Road.

“It’s people that just don’t care,” Adams said.

The transfer station is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and it costs $55 a ton to dump there. But, Adams said, there are alternatives to keep people from littering. The county will schedule a pickup for large items for $30, or it will place a Dumpster for $60 plus another $60 every time it’s dumped.

Adams agreed that the litter in the county has become a serious problem and will impact efforts to bring tourists to the county unless it’s dealt with. But how is a different matter. Roadsides are relegated mostly to non-profit organizations looking to make $100 a mile to pick up the litter, or jail inmates who volunteer for litter pickup to get some time outside.

Adams said he empties the garbage cans at the overlooks on Pine Mountain himself about once a week and the sanitation department crews are supposed to check them and empty them whenever they pass by on their routes. But, with heavy use from tourists and local residents alike, the cans fill up quickly.

“If they get to where the lids don’t close, then the bears get in them,” he said.

Adams said having someone specifically to pick up the garbage at the overlooks would be good, and the county will look into that if the money ever comes available.

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