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We human beings are trashing the third rock from the sun. Here is a model for all local governments on it to follow, especially U.S. rural counties

By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition


Lamar ParisLamar Paris is the influential and respected fifth-term commissioner serving in his 18th year as the governing authority of this county of 22,267 souls at the roof of Georgia. He and the American corporation with which his county has contracted moved to sharply define their transfer-station operations in the past year to demonstrate what local governments around the Pacific Rim surely never got done. I mean never got done before there formed in the northern Pacific what the New York Post wrote last month is a floating island of trash twice the size of Texas.

Paris and Ga. Bureau of Investigation chief Vernon Keenan, former Ga. governor Roy Barnes, and former Irvine, Calif. mayor David Baker are the public officials who, in more than a half-century of journalism, I have most admired for their commitment to service. In all of them, it is genuine.

Paris can step out a door of the administrative center here where he works (or briefly parks his county car between speeding bursts of activity around it to get things done) and can see in a circle around him a quilt of Blue Ridge Mountains’ forested low peaks. Here where he is standing at that moment upon this little planet in a tiny solar system making a dot on a universe… here there surely is a local environment worth protecting.

In his “Commissioner’s Questions” column with his kind and straight talk to the citizens in the weekly North Georgia News since February 2017, Paris has patiently and courteously spelled out the problems to be overcome and the definitions for the operation of trash collection and recycling in Union County, Ga. Here they are, and statements are his own:

Union County Recycling Station

  • A lot of the properties that need cleaning up have ABSENTEE OWNERS who don’t realize their renters are destroying their property and causing an eyesore. We are constantly looking for opportunities to work with people.
  • To ADOPT-A-ROAD to pick up its litter, call my office at 706-439-6000. You must commit to work one mile four times a year.
  • The safe disposal of 9-volt BATTERIES is something that everyone must keep in mind. Make sure you place the used batteries back in their package or put tape over the end before disposal.
  • The transfer station building has CAMERAS to ensure that the proper procedures are being followed by everyone.
  • The DETAINEES who pick up trash for the county are from the Ga. Dept. of Corrections’ Colwell Detention Center minimum-security facility located here in Blairsville, and which was paid about $42,778 last year for their work. In addition to this raw cost there is gas, vehicle cost and more. We also have a work crew from the Union County jail that assists part time in litter pickup.
  • The next ELECTRONIC recycling day will be in the North Georgia Technical School parking lot. There are more than 30 item types accepted including cell phones, copiers, desktop telephones, gaming controllers, hard drives, laptops, printers, scanners, servers, desktop telephones, UPS batteries and much more.
  • The FINE for littering can be up to $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail, or both.
  • Uncovered trash in pickup truck beds FLIES OUT. Just use common sense. If you throw something in your pickup truck bed and when you get home it is not there, then you have littered Union County. It is the law, so please cover your load. Please be careful and thoughtful and see if we can reduce litter and allow additional playgrounds to be built in the county. That would be a wonderful outcome of simply being careful and aware.
  • From trailers, haulers and pickup trucks, FULL TRASH BAGS are blowing off. Often they hit the highway and break apart or the next car hits them. We have an ordinance that requires that your load be tarped or covered if you are hauling bags of trash or loose items to the dump.
  • The word GARBAGE refers to food products or byproducts of food preparation. Garbage left out in the open violates state health ordinances.
  • GLASS is accepted at a Union Co. facility called the Convenience Center at Ga. 325 and Ga. 515. However, the transfer station and recycling stations are not equipped to accept it.
  • The county litter HOT LINE is 706-439-6025. It is anonymous and you can leave a message day or night. You simply state that you saw someone throwing out trash. Hopefully you can give us the tag number but if not, any identification would help – time of day, location in county where you witnessed the trash being deposited, color and make of vehicle and if possible, what type trash? Was it a bag, cup, can or other?
  • HOUSEHOLD TRASH, such as rotten food and diapers, may cause disease from rodents and pests that get into it and cannot be allowed in the open without being confined in a sealed container.
  • The word JUNK generally refers to abandoned types of equipment and appliances including lawn mowers, washing machines, motorcycles or similar toys.
  • A JUNKED VEHICLE has no license plate and is partially dismantled or unable to be moved in the manner it was originally intended.
  • A JUNKYARD of junked vehicles has five or more of them.
  • It costs the county about $1,500 each to remove MOBILE HOMES. Obviously, most of them have been there for a long time. We try to work with the property owners on a case by case basis.
  • The county only accepts #1 and #2 PLASTICS with screw lid tops because it has a market for them. The #1 plastic is usually clear or green and glossy and includes clear and green soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars, salad dressing bottles and water bottles. The #2 plastic usually a milky or solid color and items are rigid, and this includes milk jugs, detergent bottles and shampoo bottles.
  • There are PROPERTIES AROUND THE COUNTY that look trashy. Trash has a lot of meanings to a lot of different people.
  • The SHERIFF’S DEPT. patrols the road to the transfer station.
  • Some drivers, for reasons I don’t understand, simply think it is OK to THROW OUT THE WINDOW bags, bottles, cigarette butts as they go down the highway.
  • The word TRASH is usually considered newspapers, cups, fast-food bags, grocery bags, Styrofoam and similar other items.
  • For a YARD FULL OF JUNK MATERIALS such as washers, dryers and other junk, the junk materials have to equal 600 square feet or more for it to be considered a junkyard. That would be an area 30 feet long by 20 feet wide.

in ever-growing mounds of garbage,” the Washington Post wrote last November, but that’s not if Lamar Paris of a county at the roof of Georgia USA can help stop it from happening.

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., was a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer/donor and recipient of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. Tom died on December 28, 2020.