Over 12,000 pounds of garbage — that's how much trash was picked up along Walker County roads in the month of January alone, according to Commissioner Shannon Whitfield.
And that, he said, is just the beginning.
Cleaning up the county, both aesthetically and in terms of policing, has been a major focus of the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group since residents came together to form it in March 2016. At the group's meeting earlier this month, Whitfield laid out a series of changes to codes enforcement, building inspection and zoning within the county that will help further part of that goal.
Among them are changing when the codes enforcement office can investigate or contact property owners, moving the codes enforcement office to Rock Spring, which he said is more accessible than its current location at 91 Industrial Drive in Chickamauga. The current location is closed on Fridays, and because of a locking gate on the road, people can't always get to the office. The new Rock Spring office will be open five days a week, and will be hiring more officers to inspect property.
Whitfield said these changes are in response to the sheer number of out-of-compliance properties in the county, and the "staggering" amount of garbage and tires the county has collected since he took office Jan. 1.
He noted that county codes enforcement officers have already investigated twice as many dilapidated homes in the last two months as during the entire year of 2015 — which fell under then-commissioner Bebe Heiskell's administration — and 83 percent as many garbage violations as were investigated in 2016. This, Whitfield added, was all done while the office was "grossly understaffed."
Heiskell could not be reached for comment.
Whitfield said the most marked change he's implementing in regards to codes enforcement is when officers can investigate a property. He claimed that officers under the Heiskell administration couldn't do something about a property, regardless of how many junk cars or piles of refuse were sitting in the yard, unless the office had gotten a complaint about it.
"We're not doing that anymore," Whitfield said at the meeting.
He plans to sweep the north end of the county around the Fairview and Happy Valley areas starting April 1, going door to door to visit anyone with code violations.
"Anyone with a bunch of stuff lying out in your yard, you've been warned," Whitfield said to loud applause.
He acknowledged there are those without the means to clean up their yard, but said there are ministries and organizations in the county that can help. One such group, Helping Hands, an offshoot of the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group, has taken to picking up trash along the sides of residential roads and volunteering to cleaning up people's yards and transporting trash to the landfill.
While he said his office will be reasonable, he stressed that there will be no excuse for having a yard full of trash or broken cars anymore, and suggested everyone familiarize themselves with the county's codes.
The 12,280 pounds of trash collected off area roadsides in January was followed by an additional 10,720 pounds collected through February, and the latter figure wasn't complete through the end of the month. Neither of those figures include tires picked up off the roadside, either. Whitfield said 156 tires were collected in January and 52 in February.
"We're averaging over a ton of garbage a week," he said. "That's a lot of paper cups and plastic bottles."
To help mitigate this issue, Whitfield said he wants to focus on education at the school level. Children pick up on what their parents do, he explained. If they see Mom or Dad tossing trash out the window of the car, they're likely to do the same.
In addition, he said the county is applying for a grant for a tire amnesty day, which would allow citizens to turn their tires over to the county without the normal $5-per-tire fee.
Finally, Whitfield cited the importance of local neighborhood groups like the Wilson Road group in keeping local roadsides clean. He called on citizens to help the community through adopt-a-highway programs so they can take ownership of their streets.