County litter

A pile of trash rests along the right of way on U.S. 72 near the intersection of Reid Road in this 2017 file photo

Elected leaders at the state and local levels have, for years, talked about the coming population boom that — for all intents and purposes — is upon us now.

The Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority approves running service to dozens of new homes each month. The Athens Planning Commission has reviewed plans for hundreds of new single-family homes, apartments and town homes since the beginning of the year.

The growth, thanks to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and its related suppliers, is here.

That being said, pretend for a moment that you are a stranger to this county. Drive around the city of Athens with fresh eyes. Take a look down roads and rights of way with a fresh perspective.

What would you see? Would you see anything that would make you change your mind about wanting to live here?

Honestly speaking, this area has a significant issue with litter and trash. There are nay-sayers on this issue, but it’s hard to deny. It’s in medians. It’s in ditches. It’s next to stop signs. It’s in private yards. It’s in front of public buildings. It’s everywhere, and you don’t have to look hard for it.

The desire for a clean community is not a political issue. This has nothing to do with climate change or global warming. This has everything to do with taking pride in where you live.

Do you walk through rooms and hallways of your own home, throwing down paper towels, napkins, cardboard and drink cans? Why do we continue to allow such behavior on our roads, streams, lakes and rivers?

Limestone County has a litter crew, and it’s not uncommon to see county and state inmates picking up litter along roadsides and in medians. It’s not enough, however. In a county approaching a population of nearly 100,000 people, there are no amount of workers and inmates who can possibly compete with folks who would rather have their biscuit wrapper rotting along U.S. 72 as opposed to the floorboard of their vehicle.

It’s not just paper, bottles and cans that some Limestone Countians are content to throw from a moving vehicle. Limestone County commissioners have often told tales of discarded mattresses, tires, refrigerators, televisions, couches and recliners dumped in rights of way and ditches.

Why on Earth would someone think this is acceptable? We must do better.

Much of our economic good luck in recent years can be credited to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, a collaboration between two of Japan’s largest car manufacturers. It’s clear MTM has a commitment to Limestone County’s environment. When the federally protected spring pygmy sunfish was found to inhabit a creek complex near where the $1.6 billion plant is under construction, MTM put a halt to construction while a plan to ensure the protection of the fish could be devised.

It should also be pointed out a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity to ensure officials with MTM and the city of Huntsville went above and beyond to ensure the protection of the fish.

Nevertheless, officials with MTM and its suppliers have consistently pledged to be good community partners. We can’t help but wonder what they think about a community of people who seem to care so little about their environment.

The litter is only part of our problem. It’s been more than 10 years since Athens-Limestone residents have had an opportunity to dispose of dangerous household wastes like oil-based paint, old fuel, pesticides and herbicides.

The issue was brought to light recently at a County Commission meeting. An East Limestone resident said she had several cans of old spray paint she wanted to get rid of, but no way to do so.

We implore our city and county officials to work with the Athens-Limestone Recycling Center and Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful to organize a hazardous waste recycling day and make it an annual event. Ten years is far too long to wait.

How many homes and storage buildings have caught fire in that 10-year period. How many firefighters have been exposed to hazardous fumes caused by melted bottles of herbicide or exploded paint cans?

Even worse, if residents don’t have a way to dispose of those products, they may dispose of them in a highly dangerous manner by simply pouring them out on the ground. Those toxins will eventually find their way to water and potentially lead to ecological disaster.

We must do better, and we must start now. Those building housing developments may not care about roadside litter, but potential homeowners may.

There are some who may not care for the prospect of new blood in Limestone County, but new blood means new revenue. Every home sold equates to more property tax for Limestone County, and those taxes are used to fund county services. More people equates to more sales tax in Athens, which are used to fund city services. The more people you have, the more gasoline you sell. Gas tax dollars are used to repair and maintain our roads.

If we want to keep people out of Limestone County, we should continue on our same track of not caring about how our communities look. Keep throwing out the trash and dumping the tires and furniture.

It doesn’t make someone unhip or “liberal” to care about their community or the environment. We should want to do better and set a positive example for young people.

The next time you throw a cigarette butt or drink can from your car window, ask yourself how it looks to someone who may want to build a life in Limestone County.