Residents voice frustration over unstoppable paper deliveries

Residents voice frustration over unstoppable paper deliveries

HORRY COUNTY (WMBF) – Week after week, Dawn Schirnhofer walks through her neighborhood picking up copies of papers and then throws them away.

Schirnhofer has lived in the Southern Branch community in Horry County for four years. She has received a copy of The Sun News' Neighbors' edition for years, but she doesn't have a subscription to the paper.

"Nobody will do anything. They said 'OK, we'll send an email to whoever' and they've never contacted me," Schirnhofer said.

The Sun News said this weekly edition is an opt-out paper and is distributed to around 60,000 homes throughout the area.

Schirnhofer has tried to opt out of deliveries multiple times over the years. She has called the customer service number, visited the office, even tracked down the delivery driver. Despite her efforts, the paper is delivered each week.

"If people leave newspapers on driveways and people are on vacation, someone might know that or they don't have the chance to pick them up. I just think it's a littering issue too and for the environment it's not good," she said.

Summer rain has caused the issue to be more than a minor annoyance for the Horry County resident.

"People run them over and then they get into mush and then it ends up in our retention pond," Schirnhofer said.

She added the papers clogged her street's drains and contributed to flooding in the road.

Schirnhofer is not alone. At the Aug. 14 Horry County Council meeting, a man spoke out about his frustration with the paper deliveries.

"I go out on the back streets and I look at it and it's ridiculous," the Horry County resident complained. "I have no objection to The Sun News delivering the newspapers. I think they ought to not use that way to throw advertisements."

In 2016, the county was considering adding fines to violators. The proposed ordinance made it to the third reading before it was deferred. At the November 2016 meeting, council members voiced their concern about the ordinance, causing court cases with the local papers.

The Sun News argued the deliveries are protected under the First Amendment.

"The thing that we are trying to avoid, which I think wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers or fair to the McClatchy shareholders, is that we take this down a litigation route," said Mark Webster, president of The Sun News during a 2016 Horry County Council meeting.

This is an argument used in similar conflicts across the country. From Baltimore to New York City, residents have fought against the unsolicited papers.

"Many newspapers have free newspapers that are thrown in driveways," My Horry News publisher Steve Robertson said. "The position of most newspapers is that this practice is protected by the First Amendment. There have been many efforts over the years by cities and counties to regulate the distribution of free papers, but few have succeeded."

My Horry News, like The Sun News, has a free edition called the News & Shopper. Robertson said these are placed in newspaper tubes or thrown on driveways because they are not allowed to be put in mailboxes.

While Horry County did not pass a harsher ordinance, it does have a law that deals with handbill distribution.

Ordinance 10-30 states permission is required to distribute a handbill on private property, regardless of if the handbill is commercial or noncommercial. Under the law, a driveway is considered private property and a handbill is any "printed, copied or written information..."

The ordinance goes on to state it is the responsibility of the person distributing the handbills without permission to dispose of them.

WMBF reached out to Horry County's public information office, county attorney and code enforcement for an explanation on why these paper deliveries were still allowed in the county. No answer was provided and no department responsible for enforcement was named.

Myrtle Beach also has laws regarding to handbill distribution. In many cases, newspapers have exemptions.

Mark Kruea, spokesperson for Myrtle Beach, said without a paper subscription, the papers are considered litter and a violation of the ordinance.

"If you don't have a subscription, you haven't given permission," Kruea said.

Violations are considered misdemeanors and subjected to fines and jail time. However, Kruea said the city generally directs residents' complaints to the newspapers rather than issuing fines.

Enforcement in the county is also hazy. The Horry County resident at the council meeting told council members he has called litter control multiple times and they told him they can't do anything about it.

Both local newspapers said they have a database of residents' names who have requested not to have deliveries to their address.

The Sun News said Schinhofer's address was recorded in the database in May, but she reported still receiving papers.

Schinhofer's other main concern is that her neighborhood has a sign prohibiting distribution and solicitation.

"If I lived in a public neighborhood where this wasn't an issue, you know if there wasn't any signs, then I wouldn't have an issue, but there are specific signs that say there no solicitation and no distribution of materials and they still continue to do it," she said.

The Sun News told WMBF it would make sure deliveries are stopped at Schinhofer's address, but each individual resident in the community would need to call for deliveries to stop throughout the entire neighborhood.

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