From WMBF News partner MyHorryNews.com:
When the Chicora Indians launched a series of community cleanups last year, chief Clyde Strickland saw the task as a preservation effort.
"We are caretakers of the land," he said. "But the main thing is, this land is for us all. We're leaving it to our children and their children. And if we don't take care of it, they're going to pay the price."
That commitment to paying it forward led the Chicoras to hosted 11 community cleanup events last year and three more this year. But Strickland said dealing with the litter problem in Horry County will take more than a few groups picking up empty soda bottles and candy wrappers.
Local leaders, he said, must take a more active role in the process.
"If we don't work together and help each other out," he said, "we can't make a positive impact in the county."
Horry County Council appeared to get the message this week. During a workshop Tuesday night, council members insisted they were tired of seeing trash line the roadsides of heavily traveled thoroughfares such as U.S. 501, S.C. 9 and U.S. 17 Bypass.
"I'm embarrassed," said chairman Mark Lazarus, who has made litter control one of the top issues in his reelection campaign. "It is terrible. … It's not right. The trash is not being picked up."
Paul Whitten, the assistant county administrator over public safety, presented several options for handling the situation.
If County Council wanted to tackle the trash problem through enforcement, he said police would need to spend time investigating illegal dump sites to find out the source of the pollution. He also said they would need to saturate high-litter areas with patrols. The initial cost of hiring a litter team of a corporal and three officers would be $418,000 in the first year.
However, Whitten said another option — and the one he recommended — would be to create two teams of day laborers that would be supervised by county staff.
"It's a cheaper route," he said. "If there's an ice storm and we're not going to utilize them, we don't have to pay them."
The county already has an employee devoted to litter pickup, so staff would only need to hire one full-time team leader. The other workers would be used on a temporary basis. They would pick up litter three days per week and spend two days hauling away dead animals.
One team, Whitten said, would focus on gateway areas such as U.S. 501, S.C. 22 and U.S. 17. He suggested the council use accommodations tax money to pay for that team since a-tax money is supposed to be spent on tourism-related expenditures and tourists enter the beach on those roads.
He estimated the total cost would be $154,200.
Whitten also noted that using inmates from the county jail isn't an option. By law, pre-sentenced inmates cannot be forced into county labor, and fewer than 10 percent of those at the jail have had their day in court. Of the 56 inmates that have been sentenced, Whitten said most of them handle the laundry, cooking and janitorial work at the jail.
"I hear a lot of times, 'We need to use inmates. Have the chain gang picking up litter. That's what we need,'" Whitten said. "Unfortunately, that's not a viable option."
Lazarus supported Whitten's proposal.
"We need a profession staff that is dedicated to this," he said. "It's horrible. It's really bad after DOT cuts the grass and they just cut the cups and the trash and everything else. It's everywhere."
Other council members liked the idea as well.
"This is a bad problem inside of Horry County," said councilman Al Allen. "I see it on the road."
Although Allen said he supports Whitten's efforts, he'd like to see the county step up enforcement.
"You just can't go out there and actually work hard and clean up a road unless you're going to enforce the ordinances, too," he said. "I would love to see a team of folks out here specifically focused on litter. If you've got to put them in unmarked trucks or bicycles or whatever. Whatever it takes. Because we've got to let people know we're serious."
Councilman Brent Schulz added that Whitten should partner with local organizations that have had success cleaning up their communities.
"They get a lot of people out," he said. "We can get volunteer groups together as well on top of this."
One group, Keep Horry County Beautiful, picked up nearly 25,000 pounds of litter last year. Horry County staff picked up more than 125,000 pounds, too.
"That's a lot," Whitten said. "But it barely makes a dent in the problem."
Councilman Harold Worley was the lone skeptic. He said the money discussed wouldn't be enough to address the litter troubles.
"I personally want action," he said. "I don't think this little bit of money is going to get what I want done."
Worley told Whitten that if he launches the litter program he'd like to see him report back to council after a few weeks to let leaders know if the two teams of day laborers are enough.
Despite that concern, Lazarus said the council should push forward with the program. He also said the county needs to begin a public relations campaign to promote litter control.
County officials said they'd have a better direction for the program at their March 11 meeting.
"This council, we've all been about jobs, jobs, jobs," Lazarus said. "But I can promise you we're going be about trash, trash, trash also."
By the numbers
Pounds of litter picked up by Horry County staff in 2013
Pounds of litter picked up by Keep Horry County Beautiful in 2013
Pounds of litter picked up by SCDOT's Adopt a Highway Program in Horry County last year
The estimated cost of the county's proposed plan for litter control