Litter affects drainage – and Livingston Parish has a litter problem

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A pile of trash lies in Gray’s Creek near the 4H Club Road Bridge.
David Gray | The News

Drainage has become the topic of the day in Livingston Parish.

The Great Flood of 2016 has brought to the forefront that living in southern Louisiana means that the water will come, and there has to be a way to get it out.

During the 2019 summer, several flash storms came through the area – dropping an amount of water, in such a short time-span, to make them 500-1000 year events. Water would pool up in places that once never saw so much as a stream of water heading for a storm drain, and other places would be three times worse than normal.

Questions came after – why so much rain? And why is everything backing up so quickly?

At a ‘community forum’ in Walker, engineer Kresten Brown informed the public that many drainage implements currently in use for Livingston Parish just weren’t designed to handle that level of water in that amount of time.

But, there was also another impactful piece of the puzzle that, until Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry brought light to it in May, wasn’t being discussed – trash.

According to Landry, the city was constantly pulling trash, litter, and debris from storm drains. In some instances, popped kiddy pools were dragged out after creating an artificial barrier – even boxes would get sucked into culverts, blocking all water flow.

At one point, the city pulled a basketball out of a subsurface drainage system.

Landry explained that the city employs a gentleman named Ed Kenard, who patrols the city seven days a week to pick up trash, clean public restrooms, and empty public trashcans. Landry said he wasn’t sure exactly how much trash Kenard picks up in a day, simply saying, “it’s a lot.”

Despite the effort, combined with the occasional public service workers through the court system, Denham Springs just can’t keep up with the litter issue.

That’s a statement that extends beyond Denham Springs.

In 2017, the Department of Transportation and Development released a graphic detailing its efforts to combat roadside trash across Louisiana. To pick up about 56,000 cubic yards of litter, the DOTD spends about $7.6 million. This price tag includes: mowing and litter contracts, mowing and litter agreements, sheriff’s department agreements, Department of Corrections, and in-house costs.

A system of fines exist for state police and sheriff’s departments to enforce on individuals who litter. Those convicted of a litter violation can be forced to pay a fine between $175 and $1,000 and commit up to eight hours to a litter abatement work program, or perform community service work collecting or removing litter.

An individual may be fined up to $175 for simple littering. An example of this can be trash flying out of the back of a pickup truck. An individual who deliberately throws trash out of a window onto the roadway can be convicted of intentional littering and can be fined up to $250.

Lastly, an individual can be found guilty of gross littering by depositing large amount of trash into a ditch or having an illegal dumpsite and can be fined from $500 to $1,000.

However, DOTD’s consistent need for trash pickup along state roads and highways shows that the fines don’t stop it all.

In Walker, for instance, the city must assist the state along highways 447 and 190. Garbage trucks heading to the Eastside Landfill just outside the city’s eastern boundary have a clean arrival, according to the city’s Chief of Staff Jamie Etheridge – it’s when they leave it’s a problem, he said.

Etheridge explained the city partnered with Waste Management to ask dump trucks and garbage trucks to keep their covers on, even when leaving the area, to reduce waste. The city’s Department of Public Works cleans up trash four times per week, usually collecting 30-35 bags per day.

“That’s just the major highways and where we might be working on a project,” Etheridge explained, “and it’s still not enough.”

Parish President Layton Ricks echoed the sentiment.

“We do what we can, when we can,” Ricks said. “We work through the Department of Public Works (for the parish) and partner with (Sheriff Jason Ard) when he has community service workers or inmates who can help.

“It’s a big parish,” Ricks added.

All of the trash that can’t be picked up finds its way into drainage implements, or ditches and creeks – which, if it doesn’t get snagged along the way, eventually reaches the major waterways of the parish. Especially, according to Ricks and Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Mark Harrell, the Amite River.

Bridges along the Amite in the southern portion of the parish, near Maurepas, act as natural dams for debris and trash after large storms – causing water backups and flow issues. The parish’s DPW will bring back hoes to the area to scoop out the trash and bring it to designated burn sites – usually several times, per summer.

On the other hand, a grassroots effort by Watson resident Rachel Deaton called ‘Project River Cleanup’ dipped down into the Amite in August.

More than 100 volunteers grabbed plastic bags and gloves, hit the water, and gathered all the trash and debris they could find during an all-day river cleanup across Livingston Parish and beyond on Saturday, Aug. 10. Together, boaters spent more than eight hours collecting trash from the local waterways. Some of the bigger items they found included wrecked boats, old propane tanks, refrigerators and other household appliances, broken tree limbs, furniture, old tires, and one cast iron tub.

It’s that kind of participation the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce is hoping to see on Saturday, Nov. 16 for their ‘Litter Free LP’ day. President and CEO April Wehrs and current chairman John Blount visited the parish council in October to make their pitch to the council to participate in the parish wide effort, which will showcase teams from all municipalities and areas, pitching in for garbage collection Wehrs said.

The Chamber also hosts a ‘Pick up 10 on the 10th, an initiative to get residents to pick up 10 pieces of litter on the 10th day of every month.

“This is has been John’s (Blount) focus since he became chairman,” Wehrs explained, “he’s been passionate about it since he approached me after he received the gavel.”

“There’s just too much of it,” Blount said, referencing the litter, “the government can’t be the only entity to bear the burden – it has to be a partnership between government, citizens, and businesses.”

Interested parties in the Litter Pickup day can call the chamber at 225-665-8155 and ask for the team leader’s contact number nearest them.

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