Council talks trash about trashmakers, doubles down on 'baby goats'

Hurley blames stores for roadside litter; Harkness see opportunity in viral video
By Ethan Andrews | May 08, 2017
Source: YouTube City Councilor Mike Hurley stands on the lawn of City Hall before dumping out two bags of trash he collected along one side of a 300-foot section of High Street.

Belfast — A list of annual restaurant license renewals brought to the City Council for rubber stamp approval prompted talk of trash-strewn highways. One city councilor argued that a small number of businesses account for most of the trash and should be held responsible.

City Councilor Mike Hurley recounted his experience picking up trash on a 300-foot stretch of outer High Street, which he documented in a YouTube video titled "Mike Hurley is upset about trash."

"You couldn't believe it," he said during the May 2 council meeting. "You just look up this ditch. It was like looking up the Grand Canyon filled with garbage and you just go, man, I don't know who's doing this or who's at fault but you want to do something about it."

While Hurley said the identity of littering motorists would probably remain unknown, the source of the garbage was often printed right on the discarded items. And the labels and logos pointed to a handful of convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, he said.

Hurley said he didn't have an easy answer about what to do with the refuse but said some towns charge a cleanup fee or submit a proposal to clean the roads. He likened this approach to bars being held to account for drunk driving.

"The one thing I know is it's insane the amount of garbage that is out on these roads."

He noted similar results from other trash cleanup efforts. A resident who picked up 135 discarded alcohol "nips" on Mill Lane went back and found 100 more on Swan Lake Avenue between Mill Lane and Route 1. Swanville elementary school students policed 50 yards of Oak Hill Road and returned with a mountain of trash, he said by email later.

"Belfast has 50 miles of roads. Every road is like that," he said May 2.

Hurley noted that his own pile did not include any plastic bags, which recently were targeted by a local Ban the Bag group for regulation. "The bags are not the problem," he said. "I'm fine with signing off on the bags. Ban the bags. (But) this is the problem!"

A representative of Ban the Bag in Belfast who spoke at the council meeting, said plastic bags might not have been in Hurley's haul, but they are out there. During her own investigation, she found them camouflaged among dead leaves, silted over in riverbeds and hung up in tree branches.

Councilor Neal Harkness suggested the city get brightly colored bags and waive the disposal fee for civic-minded citizens, scouts, ball teams and others to be able to collect roadside trash. Councilor Eric Sanders and City Manager Joe Slocum both spoke of successful community cleanups.

But Hurley objected to leaving the problem to good Samaritans.

"Their business model is based on a river of garbage pouring out onto the side of the roads, which we now expect Boy Scouts to pick up after them?" he said.

Harkness said realistically it would take a multi-level approach.

Speaking later, Hurley said he the topic might come back to the council for discussion, but he did not anticipate the city legislating businesses. He added he is hoping for a community cleanup next spring.

What to do with foreclosures?

Facing a pile of tax foreclosures, councilors revisited the idea of using the city's leverage for the benefit of people who are losing their homes. Sanders suggested a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate foreclosed properties, but noted the organization has had trouble in the past finding beneficiaries.

The question was raised: Could the city turn over the property to a local housing authority like Penquis CAP to build low-income housing? City Planner Wayne Marshall said it was probably within the city's rights but the properties might not be ideal for that type of redevelopment.

Mayor Walter Ash attempted to rein in the charity sleigh, noting that nonpayment of taxes hurts residents who do pay, including some who struggle to keep up with the city's rising mill rate.

Can Belfast milk its "baby goats?"

Will tourists come to see the city where two pygmy goats escaped and rode around in a police car? City Councilor Neal Harkness wagered they might, and he suggested Belfast make the most of it.

Harkness said the recent feelgood story aired on Australian television and was picked up by major media outlets in the U.S., including USA Today and ABC News. With a little more publicity, he said, travelers to Acadia National Park might make a detour into to see the place where it all went down.

"Maybe we get a second round of publicity with Baby Goat Day," he said.

On Harkness' recommendation, the council penciled in May 16 for a visit by the pygmy goats to City Hall and an honorary proclamation to thank them for promoting Belfast.

Comments (7)
Posted by: Patricia Keyes | May 13, 2017 12:38

Here's a town-scale pyrolysis plant that we could invest in!  I bet we could heat every county and town office with it!  It even recycles TIRES!!!  One of these babies could revolutionize our area, and provide the kind of example the rest of the country needs. Mayor Ash says a water sample from Belfast bay, just one liter, has 17 small pieces of plastic in it!


Posted by: Patricia Keyes | May 13, 2017 12:29

Why not invest in a plastic-to-oil machine for our city and allow volunteers to turn in clean plastics as a way to reduce our city and county taxes?  The fast food joints might actually subsidize the heating costs in our city!  Turn plastics back into oil we can burn, or in the case of recycling polystyrene, back into the raw material needed for new plastic containers and sell it back to manufacturers!  Check this out!

Posted by: Harold Richardson | May 13, 2017 11:42

C'mon Louise-you can't be serious about that-every fast food place and every market where this litter comes from have trash containers readily available to use for free.  The parks have free doggie bags but there is still dog poop all over the common.  Some people are just real pigs and they won't stop until they are arrested and fined and maybe shamed with their pic in the paper.  If the council is serious about this then they need to make sure the PD has the resources to step up enforcement.     

Posted by: Louise Flood | May 11, 2017 19:28

It costs $3 to take a bag of garbage to the Belfast transfer station.  Maybe if that was lowered by a dollar or two, there wouldn't be so much littering in Belfast.


Posted by: Marty Weaver | May 10, 2017 14:54

Many years ago the owner of the McDonald's in my town realized that his store, two blocks from the high school, was in fact responsible for the piles of McDonald's litter along the road.  He sent out some of his crew on a regular basis to pick it up, maintaining the good will of the community while teaching his young workers a bit about community responsibility.

Today I picked up ten nips bottles along a 20 foot stretch of Doak Road after removing a flattened porcupine from the road.  Glad they're going to have deposits placed on them.

An Earth Day cleanup next year with a town barbecue afterwards would be both fun and a good way to get the roads cleaned up each spring.  Research shows that places without litter stay cleaner; if there's litter, people are not reluctant to add to it.

Posted by: Patricia Keyes | May 10, 2017 11:22

Trail cams with cloud recording, moved often, and some volunteers to watch the streaming video, and we'd have a grand time. I bet people would fight each other to review video and write down the license plate numbers! Make it an unpaid internship for folks who are training for law enforcement and need the hours of experience.  We should have a litter court on TV at City Hall, and if someone is caught twice, they can be sent to the real police with the evidence, and prosecuted. Fine them $50 per occurrence, or more. Make some money to pay men from the Reentry Center to go and pick it up for us. Win-Win.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | May 08, 2017 20:05

Blaming the stores for the litter is kinda like blaming the people that sell dog food for all the poops in the parks.  The solution is to have the PD step up enforcement and fine the few that are responsible.

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