COVINGTON, Ga. — “Embarrassing” was one of the words a local resident recently used to describe some of Newton County’s roadways.
Judy Skillern, of the Oak Hill Community, said she travels to and from Rockdale County quite often. She’s involved with several civic groups within the neighboring counties. While Rockdale’s streets are kept clean, Skillern said Newton’s are not.
“Rockdale County’s roads look good,” she said in a phone interview with The Covington News. “But then I cross the line, and I’m embarrassed.”
Skillern believes neglecting roads and letting garbage pile up sends a bad message to neighboring communities and potential newcomers. She said Magnet, Oak Hill and Salem roads were among some of the county’s worst.
“When we don’t do anything about it, it’s like we’re telling people we don’t care or it’s OK to dump your trash here,” she said. “It’s been bugging me to no end.”
Skillern has called on several local organizations to take action, but to no avail. Skillern said she wasn’t mad or upset with any of the county’s departments because she knows “they’re doing the best they can,” but she would like to see something be done sooner rather than later — whether its action from the county or its residents.
“We need to focus on keeping the county clean, even in the time of COVID-19,” she said, “because I believe once its starts, then it will start snowballing and it gets worse and worse.”
The Covington News reached out to Keep Newton Beautiful, as well as the Newton County Public Works Department, for comment on the situation and if any course of action would be taken to better clean the county’s littered roads.
Karen Key, program assistant for Keep Newton Beautiful, said the head of her organization made the decision not to conduct any activities for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19.
One of the reasons for such littered roads could be due to the Newton County Jail being on “lockdown” due to the novel virus, Key said. Before COVID-19 hit Newton County, inmate litter details would work keeping roadsides free of trash. Now, the program has been suspended indefinitely.
In the meantime, Key said residents could put in a request to the county’s public works department to have workers come clean up the area in question, but unfortunately, the request isn’t a guarantee that county crews will make it out immediately.
Brenda Johnson, administrative specialist for Newton County Public Works, said though it may seem trash is piling up, the county is working diligently to clean up all of its streets.
She said the department had purchased a machine that is pulled by a tractor and operates with a four-person crew to help create piles of trash. Once piles are made, a second crew comes to make the pick-up.
“This tractor wouldn’t be efficient if we kept moving it from spot to spot around the county, so they are working their way around the county — the major roads,” she said. “They are supposed to be in the vicinity of Kirkland, Fairview and Jack Neely this week. Hopefully they’ll be working toward Oak Hill and Magnet soon.”
Johnson said there was a separate work order created for several bags of trash to be picked up by a different crew on Magnet Road.
“We are attempting to get some more temporary employees to work as a trash detail,” Johnson said. “I’m unsure when we will be able to implement that crew, but they may be able to address my list of roads that citizens have requested.”
Conditions of state highways, like Salem Road (Georgia Hwy. 162), falls under the responsibility of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Johnson said, but she was not sure of the department’s plan for upkeep.
In an effort to combat littering, GDOT launched a campaign in October called Keep It Clean Georgia.
According to GDOT, the average American produces five pounds of trash each day, which plays a part in the nearly $11.5 billion spent on litter clean-up in the U.S. each year, and the more than 50,000 miles of roads across the state offers plenty of potential for garbage to pile up.
“The Peach State is one of the nation’s top travel destinations and welcomed a record 152.3 million domestic and international visitors in 2019,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson in an October statement.
“The many industries that call Georgia home take pride in our state, and our economy depends on all of us working together to ensure our breathtaking mountains, serene tranquil coast and picturesque small towns remain the beautiful places visitors and residents know and love. By putting the tools and information from Keep It Clean Georgia to good use, we not only support GDOT in eliminating litter across the state, but also put our best foot forward as we welcome visitors from around the world.”
A few things GDOT encourages residents to do in fighting against littering include:
• Securing litter in vehicles with compact cans or trash bags.
• Bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or farmers market.
• Using refillable beverage bottles and containers.
• Ensuring outdoor trashcans are securely closed to prevent garbage from being spread by weather or animals.
• Simply disposing of trash properly and encouraging others to do the same.
Residents can learn more about the state’s clean-up initiative by visiting KeepGAClean.com.
Although Keep Newton Beautiful has suspended all activities due to the virus, Key said people are encouraged to create clean-up groups and tackle some of the trash-riddled roads on their own. She said her organization would be happy to help by offering clean-up supplies.
Key said the issue of littering begins and ends with the people.
“It’s a sad reality that as soon as a road is cleaned it is trashed again in no time,” Key said. “I don’t know where this mentality comes from, it’s sad and frustrating to say the least … I hope future generations can turn this around for us.”